HC Deb 31 May 1886 vol 306 cc450-88

Order for Consideration read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now taken into Consideration."—(Sir James Corry.)

MR. SEXTON (Sligo, S.)

I rise to move the insertion of the following new Clause:—

Part 12.—Municipal Franchise.

And whereas it is expedient to alter the qualification of burgesses in the borough under the Act passed in the session of Parliament holden in the third and fourth years of Her present Majesty's reign, intituled 'An Act for the Regulation of Municipal Corporations in Ireland,' and to assimilate the same to the qualification of burgesses of the borough of Dublin and of boroughs in England and Scotland, and for such purposes to amend the provisions of the said recited Act so far as regards the borough of Belfast: Be it therefore Enacted, That, from and after the passing of this Act, so much of the thirtieth section of the said recited Act as requires that the house, warehouse, counting house, or shop therein referred to shall be of the yearly value of not less than ten pounds, shall be and the same is hereby repealed so far as regards the qualification of burgesses in said borough; and, for the purposes of such qualification, the said section shall be read and construed as if it were therein enacted that every man of full age who on the last day of August in any year shall be an inhabitant householder, and shall for six calendar months previous thereto have been resident as such within such borough or within seven statute miles of such borough, and who shall occupy within such borough any house, warehouse, counting house, or shop, shall, subject to the provisions in said section contained (save only the provision as regards the yearly value of said premises), if duly enrolled as therein, be a burgess of such borough and a member of the body corporate of the Mayor, Aldermen, and Burgesses of such borough: Provided that a person occupying any such premises as aforesaid jointly with any other person or persons shall be deemed an occupier of such premises within the meaning of this and the said section. Nothing in this section contained shall affect any existing burgess roll, but from and after the passing of this Act all persons making out or revising any list or lists of burgesses or preparing any burgess roll, or doing any act in relation to same, shall have, and they are hereby required to have, regard to the provisions of this Act as regards the qualification of burgesses, as if such qualification had been prescribed in the Acts under which such lists are made out. Sir, I hope very shortly to be able to convince the House that if this Bill is to pass at all the clause which I have to propose ought to be inserted in it. The House will perhaps remember that this is a Bill the chief purpose of which is to authorize the execution of a main drainage scheme for the important town of Belfast. The scheme came before a Committee of which I had the honour to be a Member, and it was estimated to cost about £200,000. The Committee, however, found that the scheme was incomplete, as it only proposed to provide a high level system of drainage; and they, therefore, imposed upon the Town Council of Belfast, who are the promoters, the condition that they should also execute a low level system, which is estimated to cost another £100,000. Considering how generally, in Belfast as well as in most other places, estimates are exeeeded by the actual expenditure, it is not rash for me to assume that the execution of this scheme will require about £500,000 to carry it out. The public debt of Belfast at present amounts to £750,000, and the town of Belfast is charged with the payment of interest on that debt to the extent of £45,000 a year. The execution of this scheme will add to that public debt a further sum, in the shape of annual interest, of £25,000, and it is calculated that that burden will last from the present time until about the end of the first decade of the 20th century. This being so, it is only natural to inquire what is the position of the municipal franchise in Belfast? Belfast, next to Dublin, is the most important town in Ireland, and there is no other town in Ireland, except Dublin, which can at all compare with it. It is a city which at present contains a population approaching 250,000. If Belfast was situated on this side of the Irish Sea, the municipal voters would number at least from 20,000 to 25,000; but, being on the other side of the Irish Channel, the municipal voters are only between 5,000 and 6,000 in number, and the municipal vote is so manipulated that a minority of 1,500 to 2,000 burgesses, finding they could obtain no influence in the municipal affairs of the town, and that they could not return a single Member to represent their opinions, have ceased to take any interest in municipal affairs, and the result is that the municipal affairs of the town, with a public debt of £750,000 and a payment of an annual interest of £45,000, has fallen into the hands of some 3,000 persons. Now, the Parliamentary Register contains the names of 32,000 electors; and thus, out of every 10 persons in Belfast who have a right to vote for the election of Members to this House, only one has the right to vote in the election of an ordinary Town Council. I submit that that is a state of things which should not be allowed to continue. There are special reasons in Belfast why the municipal franchise should be extended. Complaints have been made that the ratepayers and burgesses have not been consulted in regard to the present Bill, and public meetings have been held to protest against the conduct of the Town Council. On the other hand, there has been no public meeting in favour of the scheme; but I have already been intrusted with a Petition, signed by a considerable number of ratepayers of Belfast, protesting against the conduct of the Town Council, and inviting the House to reject the Bill unless the municipal franchise is extended to those who have to pay the taxation of the town. For the last 20 years the Corporation has consisted of a ring of persons representing a small fraction of the inhabitants, and they have taken care that the burden should lean lightly on the wealthy, while it is made to press heavily on the poor. Differential rates have been reduced, while uniform rates have been raised; and the consequence has been that the rates have become so high that within the last 20 years the rents of houses occupied by working men have been almost doubled. Belfast has lately, and is at the present moment, passing through a crisis of acute depression, and that is an additional reason why this scheme, involving the expenditure of £500,000, should not be passed until the men who have to bear the expenditure are given some share in the representation upon the Town Council. While the Corporation of Belfast has not been behind any Corporation in the Empire in the lavish expenditure of money in those parts of the town which concern the business or the comforts of the well-to-do, the paving and other arrangements of the town in the work- men's quarters are a scandal to civilization. The streets which workmen, workwomen, and children have to pass along six times a-day are paved, not with flags, but with stones locally known as "petrified kidneys," which may have been of use to the mediæval pilgrim, but are not often seen nowadays in an important town. Offensive odours continually assert themselves in these districts; and I may say that the condition of this House, of which so much complaint has lately been made, is quite salubrious compared with the working men's quarters of Belfast. I maintain that these are reasons why the working men of Belfast should have some voice in this main drainage scheme before it is carried out. If they are not allowed to have a voice in it, it is not likely to be carried out for their benefit. The position of this municipal franchise question is a peculiar one. In several Sessions of the last Parliament this House passed a Municipal Franchise Bill for all the boroughs of Ireland. It was agreed to extend to every borough in Ireland what I am now asking for in connection with the borough of Belfast. But what was the result? The House of Lords on every occasion threw out the measure; and, therefore, when I am told that it is unusual and inconvenient to introduce a measure of public law into a Private Bill, my reply is that when the wish of this House, in respect of the Irish municipal franchise, is defeated year after year by the action of the House of Lords, this House is not only entitled, but bound, to seize every opportunity which may offer itself to make its will effectual. Since I first moved in this matter, in the early part of the Session, this question has been somewhat advanced, because the new Parliament has adopted the second reading of the Irish Municipal Franchise Bill. By so doing it has affirmed the principle I seek to enforce; but of what use is it to pass that Bill here? What assurance can we have that the Bill would be passed into law? The assurances are all the other way. The probability is that the Bill this year, as in former years, will be rejected in "another place;" and I therefore invite the House, as a matter of self-respect, and in the assertion of its own judgment, to take the opportunity afforded by the presentation of this Private Bill to show that they have a real regard for the interests of the poor ratepayers of Belfast. Early in the Session the second reading of this Private Bill was taken by surprise. The Bill was read a second time on the first day after the Recess, caused by the change of Government, and it was taken at a time when the Irish Members had no idea that it was intended to take that stage. It was taken, in point of fact, at a time when the Irish Members had not returned to this House. I subsequently moved an Instruction, the object of which was to extend the boundaries of Belfast in accordance with the recommendations of a Royal Commission, which reported, some time ago, on the redistribution of boundaries. The hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Committees (Mr. Courtney) objected to that part of the inquiry, because it might involve a lengthened investigation and detailed arrangements; but I maintain that that was no reason why it should not be done. I have now got rid of that part of my former Motion, and I now make the simple request that the municipal franchise, which for four years past has prevailed in the boroughs of England and Scotland, and for the past generation has prevailed in the City of Dublin, should be also extended to Belfast. The House, since I moved my Instruction, has recognized the principle that the wishes of the Irish Members should be respected in matters of Private Bill legislation in connection with Ireland. Only a short time ago the House rejected the third reading of the Dundalk Gas Bill, because the measure was opposed by the majority of the Irish Members; and it is that manifestation of feeling on the part of the House which relieves us of the necessity of making at this time a more determined stand against the whole of the absurd system of Private Bill legislation for Ireland. When I moved my Instruction on a former occasion, the Chairman of Committees objected to part of it, on the ground that it involved a large measure of public policy; and I find it now asserted in one of the reasons put forward by the supporters of the Bill for the rejection of my Resolution, that it is an attempt to make use of a stage of a Private Bill to open up a large question of public policy. Now, this involves no new assertion of public policy. The hon. Gentleman the Chair- man of Committees urged on the former occasion that it was unusual and inconvenient to deal with a measure of public law in a Private Bill. But the hon. Member was confronted in that debate by many cases to the contrary. I have looked into the subject since, and I find that, so far is it from being unusual to incorporate the public law in a Private Bill, that it has been the usage and rule. In the Local Acts for Black Rock, Clontarf, Kilmainham, Kingstown, Pembroke, Rathmines, Bray, and Galway measures of public law were incorporated. In addition to these particular cases the Commissioners Clauses Act of 1847, which is an Act for consolidating in one Act certain provisions usually contained in Acts with respect of the constitution and regulation of bodies of Commissioners, for the purpose of facilitating their incorporation in special Acts both public and private, and insuring uniformity, contains a series of clauses dealing with the franchise on which Commissioners are elected, and these clauses must have been incorporated in dozens of English Local Acts. The House will be astonished, after the argument of the Chairman of Committees, to hear that up to the year 1847, when that Act was passed, these provisions of public law were usually inserted in all Private Bills relating to the government of municipal towns. I have looked into the Local Acts in question, and I find that they contain, not merely provisions of public law, but actually whole public statutes; and if these things may be done by the promoters of Private Bills, and by Select Committees, why should they not be done by the authority of the House itself? On the day before the day fixed for considering my Instruction, a meeting of the Corporation of Belfast was held, and a motion was made in support of my Instruction. That motion was encountered, not by an amendment on its merits, nor by a direct negative, but by moving the previous question. After the motion in favour of my Instruction had been defeated in that way by the Corporation of Belfast, the Town Clerk posted in hot haste to London, and The Belfast News Letter trumpeted the fact in the columns of that newspaper. In accordance with the example set by the Corporation of Belfast the hon. Gentleman the Chair- man of Committees moved the Previous Question in this House.


Allow me to say that I had not heard of the act of the Belfast Corporation.


The coincidence, nevertheless, was very curious. A meeting of the Corporation of Belfast was held on Saturday last to consider the subject of the present Motion, and upon its conclusion the Town Clerk left again for London. That remarkable official, who enjoys a salary of £2,750 a-year, and who has the honour to hold a roving commission from the Corporation of Belfast, is now in London for the purpose of communicating his views and ideas to the Chairman of Committees. A correspondent writes to me as follows:— The Town Clerk left here last evening for London to obtain all the Parliamentary influence he could to defeat your forthcoming Motion. The Committee were not unanimous in passing the resolution. The Town Clerk says that Lord Arthur Hill has issued a four-line Whip to obtain the rejection of your Motion; and I am also told that the Clerk will use his influence with Mr. Courtney to obtain some Liberals. In these days even a four-line Whip by the Tory Party has ceased to be a formidable weapon; and I do not think that the supporters of the measure are likely to obtain the advocacy of any Liberal Members except the Chairman of Committees. The House, however, usually agrees with the suggestions of the Chairman of Committees as to Private Bills. No doubt, the House respects the position which the hon. Gentleman holds, and is anxious that it should be respected; but I am afraid that if the language and action of the Town Clerk of Belfast were brought under your notice, Sir, as a matter of privilege, that gentleman might find himself standing at the Bar of this House before he returned to Belfast. On the 14th of July last the Rathmines Bill, which had come down from the House of Lords, was considered in this House, and upon that occasion the right hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles W. Dilke) moved an Amendment analogous to the Resolution which I am now moving. The right hon. Baronet said— As one of the Members of the Royal Commission, over which, indeed, he had had the honour to preside, he had become acquainted, through the evidence adduced before it, with the pressing character of the evils which now existed in Ireland with regard to municipal representation, and of the necessity which existed for a reduction in the borough franchise. The right hon. Baronet added that— The evidence of witness after witness given before the Commission—and he was bound to say that it was most uniform evidence—the evidence of witnesses belonging to every political Party from all parts of Ireland was of the strongest possible kind as to the effect of the very high franchise which at present existed in the Irish townships. The statement which was heard everywhere was that the franchise was limited to a certain class of people, by whom the representatives returned to the Irish municipalities were only capable of being elected. The effect in regard to the Town Commissioner-ships was to place the entire power, so far as election and administration was concerned, in the hands of a small ring of persons, upon whom the general public opinion of the locality could have no bearing whatever. The result of that was seen in the extreme difficulty which there was of securing a proper administration of the Sanitary Laws in the Irish townships, and in the fact that the death-rate in the Irish towns was threefold that of the rural districts in Ireland."—(3 Hansard, [299] 636–7.) The Motion of the right hon. Baronet was opposed only by two Members, both of whom were Members for the county of Dublin, and the only reason they gave for their opposition was the lateness of the period of the Session and the fact that the Bill had yet to go back to the House of Lords. That reason does not apply in the present case, as there is abundant time for the consideration of the Bill; and we have the further fact that the two hon. Members who opposed the Bill were neither of them returned for the county of Dublin at the last General Election. One of them—the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Thanet Division of the county of Kent (Colonel King-Harman)—was obliged to seek for a seat in England, and the other—Mr. Ion Trant Hamilton, who again contested the representation of the county of Dublin—was defeated by my hon. Friend who now sits for the Southern Division (Sir Thomas Esmonde). Sir Arthur Otway, who then held the position of Chairman of Committees, took part in the debate, and said that— Having given a great deal of consideration to this matter after the Amendment of his right hon. Friend the late President of the Local Government Board had been brought under his notice, he had come to the conclusion that it would not be proper to retain the franchise under which those Commissioners were elected. He was, therefore, prepared to advise the House to consent to the Amendment of his right hon. Friend.…. When he looked into the matter he came to the conclusion that, under the circumstances in which they were living, with the changes that were constantly taking place, although this franchise had been in existence so far back as the year 1847, it was, nevertheless, of so restricted a character that it ought no longer to be retained for any township. He therefore supported the Amendment of his right hon. Friend, and advised the House to assent to it."—(Ibid. 650–1.) I would strongly recommend to the right hon. Gentleman the present Chairman of Committees the example of his Predecessor in the Office he holds. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles W. Dilke) said, further, in moving his Amendment upon the Rathmines BillThe most likely objection he could foresee was this—'We admit that it is probable it may be desirable to reduce the borough franchise in Ireland, or the franchise for the election of Town Commissioners, and, indeed, all the local franchises in Ireland. But, although we admit that, we should not be prepared to reduce the franchise in the case of the first Private Bill which comes before the House this Session in which the question is raised.' He had considered that objection, believing that it might probably be taken to his present action. Of course, it might have some weight with the House, and some hon. Members might be persuaded by that view to refuse to alter the franchise in an exceptional case. He therefore felt fully the responsibility of the course he was taking; but, in the face of all the facts which had come to his knowledge, he felt that he could not be a party to the continuance of the present high franchise."—(Ibid. 640.) The right hon. Baronet moved his Amendment with a full knowledge of the objection which has since been taken by the Chairman of Committees, and yet the right hon. Baronet persevered with his Motion, and obtained the assent of the House to it. Further than that, the then Chairman of Committees (Sir Arthur Otway), although he entertained a high sense of the value of the scheme proposed to be carried out in the Rathmines Bill, was, nevertheless, prepared to accept the Amendment, even if, by so doing, he risked the loss of the Bill. Now, if that reform was of importance to Rathmines, it is indispensable to Belfast. Rathmines is simply a suburb of Dublin, where the houses are of such a description that almost the whole of the occupiers have votes; whereas in Belfast it is felt by the working men that there is not the slightest prospect of their obtaining any control over the expenditure connected with the municipal affairs of the town unless my Amendment is adopted. I have been furnished with a Statement of Reasons on behalf of the Corporation of Belfast in opposition to my Motion, and it is said that the change ought not to be made except with adequate discussion. Now, for how many Sessions has this House been engaged in discussing the matter, and what is the use of wasting our time in further discussion, when we know that a radical change must be made in the Government of Ireland before any reasonable reform will be adopted by the House of Lords? This Paper says that the Resolution— Emanates from a Gentleman representing a remote constituency in Ireland, having no concern with the borough of Belfast either as a resident or ratepayer. But this Amendment emanates from 85 out of 100 Irish constituencies, and I wonder at the taste of the gentlemen who put this reason forward, when they know very well that, at the last election for that borough, I obtained more votes than two of the gentlemen who are actually sitting for the borough. The Statement goes on to say— There is no evidence of any desire on the part of the inhabitants and ratepayers for any such change as is proposed being effected by the present Bill, while all the Members for the new constituencies of Belfast are opposed to dealing with the municipal franchise in an exceptional manner. It is said that this question was not raised at the last municipal election for Belfast. Why should it have been raised there? The municipal elections in Belfast are controlled by a very narrow body of persons who have never shown themselves eager to extend the municipal franchise. What is far more important than the fact that the question was not raised at the last municipal election is the fact that it was raised at the Parliamentary Election, and two of the hon. Gentlemen now sitting above the Gangway presented themselves to the electors as municipal reformers, who adopted the principle I am now seeking to enforce. They were elected upon that principle, and upon that principle alone they succeeded in defeating Sir James Corry and Dr. Seeds—the regular candidates adopted by the Tory Party. The hon. Member for South Belfast (Mr. Johnston), early in the Session, introduced a Bill for the extension of the municipal franchise in Ireland; but the hon. Member, from some inscrutable reason, has moved the discharge of the Order. The hon. Member has an unfortunate habit of saying one thing in Ireland and doing another in this House; but considering that my Motion, if carried, will effect the object he has in view, I venture to hope that I may promise myself the honour of his support. The promoters of the Bill go on to state in their reasons— The present position of the Corporation of Belfast and its municipal affairs will be generally known to Members of the House as comparing favourably with that of any other town in Ireland; and the Corporation of Belfast, and the important commercial and mercantile classes of that town, would probably prefer to continue subject to the existing difficulties in regard to the pollution of the River Lagan and the sewerage of the town, rather than that the municipal arrangements should be revolutionized in the manner and to the extent now proposed. The proposal is, in fact, an attack from outside on the town of Belfast, and the Corporation would not feel justified in making such a sweeping change without a distinct expression of opinion in its favour from the inhabitants generally. Yes, Sir, this ring which at present controls the government of Belfast, and the expenditure of £200,000 a-year, would rather have the death-rate of the town influenced by the present condition of the sewage, and the inhabitants be liable to pestilence, than that the ratepayers generally should be admitted to a share in the government of the town. If that does not satisfy the House of the spirit by which the Corporation of Belfast are actuated and their moral incompetence to continue the performance of their functions, I cannot imagine what argument will. My Motion is supported by five-sixths of the Members from Ireland; it is sure to be supported by the Members of the Liberal Party who have affirmed over and over again the principle I seek to carry out; and I shall be greatly surprised if the Motion is opposed by the Party above the Gangway who arrogate to themselves the position, in an inclusive sense, of being the champions of the Protestants of Ireland. Sir, I beg to move the insertion of the clause which stands upon the Paper in my name.

COLONEL DUNCAN (Finsbury, Holborn)

Although a Tory, I rise to second the Motion of the hon. Member; and I rise perfectly independent of my brother Conservative Members. I am acting purely of my own free will; but I think that, although I approach the question from a very different standpoint from the hon. Member who has just sat down, I am right in saying that he has adopted a correct view of the matter, and that in carrying this Motion we should do something to place the Irish municipal franchise and local government in Ireland upon that footing of equality with local government in other parts of Great Britain on which it ought to stand. I confess that I differ very much from hon. Members who sit below the Gangway on that question of Home Rule which is so dear to them; but I have always recognized the propriety of stimulating the action of the Government in taking steps to remodel the existing municipal system throughout the United Kingdom. On more than one occasion when I have at first felt opinions strongly opposed to the views of the Irish Members on some matters, I have been convinced by their arguments, and I have found myself in the same Lobby with them. I am prepared to admit that there is a certain amount of eccentricity, and it may be inconvenience, in tacking on a general principle to a clause of a Private Bill; but if there is no other way of carrying the point, I am not going to quarrel with it. If I had any doubts as to the course I ought to take on this subject, those doubts would have been removed by the paper which has been circulated among Members this morning by the promoters of the Bill. That paper is very contradictory in its terms, as I hope presently to show. During the late Election I was one of the many Conservative candidates opposed to Home Rule; but I always expressed a readiness to give to the Irish people precisely the same advantages which are given to the English and Scotch people; and I desire to remove all those differential hardships which are supposed to exist in the Sister Kingdom. I have no desire to go back from my words now; and I think the hon. Member has proved satisfactorily that in this particular instance a grievance does exist in Belfast. As a Tory, I have an idea that, in politics as in surgery, when a sore is discovered the best thing is to eliminate it, and that there is no advantage in concealing it, denying it, or maintaining it. I have no doubt that a sore does exist with regard to the people of Belfast in not being allowed to exercise the franchise, although they are required to contribute to the rates. It seems to me preposterous to give the Parliamentary franchise to these people and to deny them the municipal franchise. I have always looked upon the exercise of the municipal franchise, in relation to the Parliamentary franchise, as something like a primary school distinguished from the secondary school. If we desire that those upon whom we have conferred the Parliamentary franchise should exercise it well, why deny to them the education which will undoubtedly be given to the people by the possession of the municipal franchise? In this document we are told that there is already a Bill before the House covering the whole general question—namely, the Municipal Franchise (Ireland) Bill—and that it has passed through certain stages. I can only say that if the effect of the Motion which has just been moved will be to stir up the Government and hurry through that Bill I shall be delighted, and I am certain that in that case this Resolution might be withdrawn. But we are reminded of the now classical expression, "that the sands are dropping through the hour-glass," and unless the Government are almost omnipotent it will be difficult to pass many of the Bills which we now have before the House. We are told that the admission of so many ratepayers of Belfast to the franchise is viewed with something like horror by the promoters of this Bill, and, therefore, the support of those gentlemen would not be likely to be given to the Municipal Franchise Bill which has been referred to. For my part, I look upon this Resolution as a very mild one, indeed, after the discussions we have had during the past half-century in favour of municipal reform. Why should we refuse to grant the municipal franchise in Ireland as in England? The valley of Parliamentary debate for the last 50 years is strewn with the dry bones of arguments against extension, and there is no intellectual magician in the House who can stir those dead bones into life? Therefore, I think it is absolutely a waste of time in this House to raise up the question of the franchise again, and also a great waste of energy, however honest Members may be, in wishing to discuss the question. In the present case a large number of those who contribute to the rates have no power to participate in the municipal government under which they live. We have given to the people the power of exercising the political franchise, and surely it would be wise to instruct them how to exercise that power beneficially which we have so given to them. What is the use of giving a sword to a man and refusing to teach him how to use it lest it may be used against those who give it? It should be remembered that, in the end, if the man who has the sword directs it against the man who has given it, he may inflict clumsy wounds, because he has not been taught, but his arm will be nerved by a sense of anger at not being trusted. When we have once decided upon arming the people and conferring power upon them, we ought to witness with pleasure their skill in using the weapon with which we have armed them. I can quite understand that Parliament may refuse to give it if it thought it right to refuse; but, having once given it, I do not understand why we should do anything to minimize the value of the gift. Let us trust all in all, or not at all. We want to see in this country all classes working together; and I think it would be much better if we were to show in this House that we are anxious to see the people upon whom we have conferred the franchise exercise it beneficially by intrusting them also with the municipal franchise, rather than by imposing little barriers here and there. I feel, as a Conservative, that the barriers which now exist between class and class, created simply by the possession of wealth and educacation, or by circumstance, are things which a child's foot might kick away, and that they will do no harm unless they are cemented with the hardening mortar of a sense of injustice. Let us do away with every idea of injustice which may have been introduced into the minds of those to whom we have just given political power. I am quite sure that if we had carried out more of this principle in the past the cry for Home Rule would not have become so accentuated as it now is. Let us now try to be just and endeavour to trust the people. It is perhaps an eccentric mode of dealing with the subject to insert a principle of general law into a Private Bill; but unless something is done to arrest the proposed expenditure of public money in Belfast, however desirable that expenditure may be, until the people feel that they have their full share in controlling the expenditure, we shall only intensify the feeling of injustice which now prevails. I am not one of those who believe that the interests of the small ratepayers are hostile to those of the large ratepayers. On the contrary, I believe that the interests of both are absolutely identical. People are rated according to their means, and if a man is guilty of encouraging municipal extravagance he soon finds that it recoils upon himself, and that the small and large ratepayers suffer in equal proportion. As we have done so much in conferring Parliamentary power upon the people, let us do a little more; and although we view these matters from a very different point of view, I hope it will be admitted that we can even discuss Irish local affairs and Irish local administration effectively. Perhaps the hon. Member who has just moved this Resolution thinks and hopes for something very different from what I do. I dare say he believes that if this Motion is rejected, he will be justified in maintaining that another argument has been forged for him to use both here and in Ireland as to the impossibility of obtaining justice for Ireland in this House. Now, I feel that Irishmen do know a great deal in regard to what they want; that they are not people to be legislated for, but that they have a right to legislate in their local affairs for themselves; and if the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary will give some assurance that the general question of the municipal franchise in that country will be pushed forward, I hope that the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) will withdraw the Motion. ["No!"] If such an assurance as that is not given, I can only say that, having studied the question on both sides, I shall undoubtedly feel it my duty, as a Tory, to go into the Lobby with the hon. Gentleman.

New Clause (Part 12.—Municipal Franchise,)—brought up, and read the first time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be now read a second time."


I must congratulate the hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken upon having made a most eloquent exposition of sound Radical doctrine. And I think the whole spirit of his remarks, when he comes to make, as we all hope he will, a speech upon another Bill that is before the House, should be to the same effect as that which has now animated him. [Colonel DUNCAN dissented.] The hon. and gallant Member shakes his head; but I do not see why he should limit the principles he has so forcibly laid down to the Bill now before the House. The hon. and gallant Member has thrown out a suggestion which has already occurred to my own mind as the proper and best way of meeting the views of the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton). Upon the merits of the hon. Member's Amendment we are most of us on this side of the House absolutely at one with the hon. Gentleman. It is impossible to defend a state of things under which some 4,000 or 5,000 persons decide questions which, if Belfast were an English constituency, would be decided by 25,000 or 30,000. That is a state of things which cannot be defended politically, and it produces a vast number of exceedingly evil social results. I remember a discussion on the Municipal Franchise (Ireland) Bill in the earlier part of this Session, in which I reminded the House that the death-rate in Ireland was lower than the death-rate in England, while the death-rate in the Irish boroughs is higher than in the English boroughs. One very reasonable explanation of that is to be found in the fact that in the English boroughs the population have a very direct influence on the regulation of the affairs of the town, whereas in Ireland this regulation is confined to a very small oligarchy of the people. The hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) at once saw the changed aspect put upon his Amendment since he moved his Instruction much earlier in the Session on referring the Bill to a Select Committee. Since that time the House has read a second time a Public Bill extending to the Irish boroughs the same rights in regard to the municipal franchise as those maintained in the English boroughs. That being the case, it seems to me that it would be particularly undesirable and equivocal to admit the extension of the franchise to the borough of Belfast by a side wind when the House has already affirmed the principle of the propriety of that extension, not only in reference to Belfast, but in regard to all the boroughs in Ireland. Now, what we propose is that we should give facilities for taking up the Bill relating to the extension of the municipal franchise in Ireland at such an hour that it would evade a block. The hon. Gentleman said that very likely the same fate would await the Municipal Franchise (Ireland) Bill "elsewhere" as has affected proposals of the same kind in other years. I do not know how that may be, but I may remind the hon. Member that whatever the direction of probability may be, it is equally probable that the same decision may be applied to this Bill when it reaches "another place" if it contains a clause in the sense of the hon. Member's Amendment. Either the whole Bill or the clause may share the same fate which he apprehends for the Municipal Franchise Bill. [Mr. SEXTON: Let the Bill wait.] The hon. Member says—"Let the Bill wait." I should have thought that in taking up that position the hon. Member was placing himself exactly in the position which he reproaches the promoters of the Bill for taking up in the Circular which they have issued to Members of this House—a position which, I am bound to say, seems to me not only astonishing but most indefensible. The Corporation say— The present position of the Corporation of Belfast and its municipal affairs will be generally known to Members of the House as comparing favourably with that of any other town in Ireland; and the Corporation of Belfast, and the important commercial and mercantile classes of that town, would probably prefer to continue subject to the existing difficulties in regard to the pollution of the River Lagan and the sewerage of the town, rather than that the municipal arrangements should be revolutionized in the manner and to the extent now proposed. The proposal is, in fact, an attack from outside on the town of Belfast, and the Corporation would not feel justified in making such a sweeping change without a distinct expression of opinion in its favour from the inhabitants generally. That is the position which the hon. Gentleman himself is now ready to take up. [Mr. SEXTON: No.] I cannot distinguish between that position and the one occupied by the promoters of the Bill. It is to my mind a position that is most indefensible.


Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to explain? I say that the Corporation of Belfast should give up the scheme until they can give the ratepayers an opportunity of expressing their opinion with regard to it. I say that the scheme should be postponed until the ratepayers are admitted to power.


In either case the ratepayers of Belfast will continue to be poisoned by bad drainage. Now, Sir, I will not argue the matter further, but will say that we make the offer in perfect good faith, believing that the passage of the Municipal Franchise (Ireland) Bill will be a very great boon to the Irish boroughs. We see, therefore, no reason why the hon. Member and his Friends should not accept the broader position we offer them, instead of the narrow one that they now hold.

MR. T. M. HEALY (Londonderry, S.)

I think the right hon. Gentleman somewhat misapprehends our position. A Circular, in the form of a threat, conveying some sort of intimation that the Bill will be lost if this Amendment is added, has been issued by the promoters. I would, however, remind the House that exactly the same intimation was conveyed last year to us by the promoters of the Rathmines Bill before the Amendment which was proposed by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles W. Dilke) was added to the Bill. It was said then, as it is threatened now—"We will abandon the Bill if you insert that clause." An hon. and gallant Member who then represented the county of Dublin, but who now represents the Isle of Thanet (Colonel King-Harman), and Mr. Ion Trant Hamilton, who also represented the county of Dublin, but who is no longer a Member of this House, said—"If you insert this clause the promoters will be inclined to drop the Bill. The House of Lords will throw it out." Well, the House of Lords did not throw it out. The House of Lords were friendly to these gentlemen, and they surrendered upon that Bill, as they will have to do upon this. The promoters having spent hundreds, and, perhaps, thousands, of pounds on the Bill, will not be inclined to waste all that money if they know that the House of Commons will insist upon this Amendment. The House of Commons has a grip on the House of Lords in regard to Private Bills which I wish they had as regards Public Bills. It is, however, a novel and an exceptional position. In respect to Private Bills we have got the House of Lords in a vice, for this reason—that the promoters are on terms of friendship with many of them. They have invested money in the promotion of the Bill, and they will not be content to let it drop. I therefore invite the House of Commons to insist upon the Amendment. I have to tell the right hon. Gentleman that his proposal to give us a day for discussing the Bill will not meet the case at all, for this reason—it would meet the same opposition as this clause from Gentlemen who are all of one view. Let us take this Bill as a hostage until the House of Lords have passed the Franchise Bill. Let us have an adjournment of this debate, and postpone the Belfast Drainage Bill until the other has passed. Is it nothing that £500,000 is proposed to be spent by a little narrow ring in Belfast who were signally defeated during the last Parliamentary Election, by the return of the hon. Members for South Belfast (Mr. Johnston) and East Belfast (Mr. De Cobain)? Everything at the last Election turned upon this question, and it resulted in the defeat of the former Member (Sir James Corry), who was beaten in his own town on this very question, and who is now Member for Mid Armagh. One of the Gentleman who won a seat as an Orange Democrat was the dismissed cashier of the Corporation. He was dismissed by the Corporation because he had opposed their candidate, Sir James Corry, who received a Baronetcy for his services to the Tory Government. We are told that we want to injure Belfast—we are told we want to restrict its liberties—but here, Sir, when we are attempting to extend and amplify the liberties of Ulster, we are opposed by the Torty Party, who say we want to restrict them. I have said that it is an immense amount of money that this Corporation propose to expend—an expenditure amounting to £500,000 sterling—and all we say is, that every capable citizen in Belfast ought to be allowed to have a voice in the matter. It is said that if you delay the Bill the people of Belfast will be poisoned; but they have been poisoned for 20 years. The death-rate has still, however, not yet arrived at any extra- ordinary high figure. We in this House are also being poisoned. We have been poisoned more or less for 20 years, and are none the worse for it. I therefore think that such arguments are wholly irrelevant. I trust the House will adhere firmly to the principle we have laid down, and until the House of Lords passes the larger Bill, it is our duty to insist that this Bill should go up to the House of Lords with a Franchise Clause inserted in it.

MR. HASLETT (Belfast, W.)

We have had a number of instances quoted, but no good authority has been given for inserting a clause of this class in a Private Bill promoted for an entirely different object. The instance of the Rathmines Bill has been quoted as a precedent for the course now proposed to be taken; but the Rathmines Bill, not only in its clauses, but actually in its advertisement, contained statements, covering the question of franchise, through which the public were made acquainted with all the purposes of the Bill. I think it would be inopportune to accept such a clause as is now proposed, seeing that the entire subject is one upon which legislation is pending. The Rathmines Bill, besides being a Private Bill, related to certain districts outside Dublin—[Mr. SEXTON: This is a Private Bill.] [A laugh.] I am quite aware that this is a Private Bill. If the hon. Gentleman would wait until he heard the remainder of my sentence, he would probably find that the laugh might be turned against him. My argument is, that while this is a Private Bill, and the Rathmines Bill was also a Private Bill, yet, in connection with the latter Bill, public Notice was given of the contemplated Amendment. My contention is, that due Notice ought to be given of any intention to change the character of the Governing Body. That was done in regard to the Rathmines Bill, but it is wanting here; and, therefore, the analogy is entirely fallacious. On the last occasion when the Bill was before the House, and we were asked to pass a similar but somewhat larger Resolution, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in a very clear manner, pointed out the great inconvenience which would arise if questions of public policy were introduced into these Private Bills; and I now commend that consideration to the House. I am bound to say that, for the convenience of the House, no wiser or clearer principle could be laid down than that which was laid down on that occasion, both by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Chairman of Committees. The hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton), with an evident intention of catching the votes of hon. Members through the principle he puts forward, asks the House to pass his clause, with a view to equalize the franchise in the various Irish boroughs to that which exists in England and Scotland, and even in Dublin. But the hon. Member does not inform the House that his clause would not accomplish that object, and he keeps back the information that in not one solitary instance he has spoken of would there be an assimilation of franchise. The proposed clause would give the franchise to "every occupier" and to "every joint occupier of a house" under the old system. We might have, I suppose, 30 men occupying one house, and though only paying 1s. a-week rent each, they would all be capable of exercising the municipal franchise. The hon. Member asks, moreover, to give the franchise for six months' occupation, while Dublin requires three years' occupation.

MR. T. M. HEALY (Londonderry, S.)

No, no. That is repealed. It is not so now.


I am aware it is said to be partly repealed.


It is absolutely repealed.


Only partially repealed.


No; absolutely.


The qualification in England is 12 months' occupation. In regard to Scotland, I cannot say what it is, because it varies in different boroughs, and yet we are asked to pass a clause to extend the franchise, and to assimilate it to the franchise in other boroughs, when, as a matter of fact, it is almost impossible to find throughout the whole of Ireland a parallel case. Is it unreasonable, therefore, that we should ask that great public issues of this kind should be decided by Public Acts of Parliament, and not by a Private Bill which can apply to one town only? The hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) dwelt very strongly upon £500,000 being required to carry out this scheme, notwithstanding the fact that, as a Member of the Committee, he had sworn testimony before him from a respectable constructor of sewers, who has done an immense amount of work of that kind even in Dublin, that he was prepared to carry out the works in Belfast for the sum named in the Bill. Yet the hon. Member, in defiance of that testimony given before himself as a Member of the Committee, said that it would cost double that sum, and would throw great hardship upon the town to meet it. The entire taxation in one year under this Bill cannot exceed £15,000, of which the larger ratepayers who now possess the franchise will contribute £12,000. There has been a distinct expression of opinion from these larger ratepayers of the borough on this very question of drainage. Then, again, we are asked to consider this Bill, which relates to Belfast only, in conjunction with an Act which has been passed for Rathmines. I do not know how the Rathmines Act was procured. I only know that the clause relating to the franchise, which was inserted in it by this House, simply altered the amount of the franchise. That alteration was previously notified to the public, who had full opportunity of expressing their opinions upon it; but a similar course has not been adopted in regard to this Bill. For once I agree, and I am glad to do so, with the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland that a question of this kind is much better dealt with on a broad basis than the mere question of the alteration of the franchise within the narrow limits of a single borough which would leave all the other boroughs in Ireland in an exceptional position. It has been said that there have been very strong protests against this Bill. I know of none. I have lived in Belfast all my life, and I am not aware of it. There may have been Petitions, but they were not public Petitions, and I have not seen them, and I know nothing of their scope, and, indeed, I never heard of them until now, though, no doubt, as the hon. Member speaks about them, there have been Petitions. All I can say is that I know nothing about them. I remember, however, that on a former occasion we were told that certain witnesses, who desired to be heard against the Bill, were so poor that they were unable to pay the expenses of coming from Belfast to London to give evidence. Yet those poor witnesses, who were said to be two poor to bear the expense of coming to London, and on whose behalf the hon. Member presented a Petition, were afterwards found sitting in the House, having come over, at their own expense no doubt, for the purpose of priming the hon. Member with information. We have been told that the artizans of Belfast are cruelly wronged, and that owing to the heavy taxation imposed by the Corporation rents have been doubled. I can bear testimony, as the owner of a very considerable amount of house property, to the fact that the rents have been doubled in the wrong direction. [A laugh.] Hon. Members from England and Scotland are not likely to understand what I mean. But all my Irish Friends will thoroughly understand the Irishism. The houses of the Belfast artizans have been worth less within the last two or three years, by 20 per cent, than they were formerly. Their value has fallen, and the reason is, not that the population has decreased, but that capital has gone in that direction. The result is that the Belfast artizans can now command a better house and better accommodation than can be obtained for the same money in any other town I have visited—and I have seen a good many—in England and Scotland. ["Oh!"] Yes; I maintain that statement, for I speak from my own personal knowledge. I have lived in Belfast all my life, and I have not acquired my knowledge as a passing stranger visiting special streets for a few hours for special purposes. If any complaint can be justly made it is in reference only to the older portions of the town, and these are being cleared away as rapidly as we can, with a view to improvements, without injury to their poor occupants. Hitherto the difficulty has been that frequently these houses are the only income the poor people have, and we have accordingly shrunk from depriving them of them. But in this Bill we have introduced a clause which will enable us to pay any persons whose dwellings it is found necessary, for sanitary reasons, and for the general public good, to deprive them of. I do not know whether this House requires any information in regard to Belfast. A good deal of information was given to the Royal Commission, and the town was complimented for the manner in which the artizans are housed. The hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) says that the lighting, paving, and sanitary state of Belfast are a disgrace to civilization. All that is utterly beside the question, and it is not in accordance with facts. We have been told that the streets are paved with "petrified kidneys." Perhaps, Mr. Speaker, you never heard that expression before, but it is the nearest description which can be arrived at of the old mode of paving some of the smaller thoroughfares. But it must be remembered that, even in an important city like Belfast, it is impossible to overtake all the desired improvements at once; and it must also be borne in mind that this is a kind of pavement which cost 2s. or 2s. 2d. a-yard, whereas the more modern flagging would cost from 7s. to 7s. 6d. a-yard. Up to a recent period the Corporation of Belfast, in applying to Parliament for special powers, did not consider it necessary to interfere with the gradual development of the town by compulsory legislation; but, for the information of the hon. Member for Sligo and the House, I may say that in recent Acts they have taken power to compel the flagging of the streets, and they refuse to allow the streets to be paved except with flags. A resolution has been passed that every square yard of the old paving shall be taken up and replaced with flagging at a cost of one-third to the owner and two-thirds to the general taxpayers of the town. Surely no more reasonable proposal could be made in view of all the difficulties. We are flagging our leading thoroughfares as fast as we can, and we are providing funds for the complete flagging of the town, from the centre outwards, as our funds enable us, without unduly pressing on the taxpayers. We hope to overtake the work very speedily. In spite of all this, we are asked if we are afraid to trust the people. I know the artizans of Belfast intimately, and I am prepared to state here broadly that I am neither afraid nor ashamed to trust them with the franchise; but I also know that the artizans of Belfast are prepared to express their opinion that they would prefer the general Act dealing with the question to the proposal of the hon. Member for Sligo. [Mr. T. M. HEALY: What is it to them?] It is everything to them. They knew perfectly well that with the general Act will come the enlargement of the boroughs. ["No!"] I believe the larger Bill will be passed. If I can help it I certainly will do so, and when the general Bill comes on I shall be ready to give my most earnest attention to every line connected with the franchise in the boroughs. ["Oh!"] If hon. Members below the Gangway are not prepared to do the same, they will, perhaps, find the subject dealt with in a manner they scarcely expect. In conclusion, allow me to come back again to the main question, and to ask the House if it is wise in a Private Bill to adopt a general principle of public law which is absolutely new? ["No!"] I repeat that it is absolutely new. What precedent can be cited for inserting in a Private Bill a Franchise Clause which is altogether foreign to the Bill?—a Franchise Clause of which no public Notice has been given—which is not hinted at in the provisions of the Bill itself, and upon which the inhabitants who will be influenced by it have had no opportunity of expressing an opinion. Is the House prepared to take a course which may hereafter be used as a lever for legislation of the most inconvenient kind? I think the House is scarcely prepared to take such a course. I trust that the good sense of hon. Members will induce them to reject the clause which has now been submitted, and that in fairness and justice they will decide that the duty of effecting a large alteration in the municipal franchise of an important city should be thrown upon a Public Act and not upon a Private Bill.

MR. STOREY (Sunderland)

I only wish to say two or three sentences. I am anxious that it should not be left to the hon. and gallant Member for Finsbury (Colonel Duncan) solely to utter Radical opinions on this question. I heard what my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary proposed; but I cannot help thinking that the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) would be wise to prefer a bird in the hand to a possible two that there may be in the bush. I cannot pretend to understand the speech of the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Haslett). I only comprehended one sentence of it, and it was the one in which the hon. Member said he was not afraid to trust the people, but that he is quite willing to grant an extended municipal franchise, not only to the inhabitants of Belfast, but to the people of every other borough in Ireland. If that be really so, I ask him why he does not take the present available opportunity of doing so? I certainly think the Chief Secretary ought to listen to the appeal which has been made to him on this question. He put the case in this way—that if the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) will consent to withdraw the Resolution, the general measure for dealing with the municipal franchise in Ireland may be pushed on; the Government will use their influence to have it passed, and in that way the hon. Member will gain his point. May I put the matter in this way? The general measure may pass this Session or it may not. If it does not, then the hon. Member by passing this Resolution will secure an object which we all, both Liberals and Tories, admit to be necessary and just. If, on the other hand, the General Bill does pass this Session, of which I entertain some doubt, then this clause will become merged in the general law, so that I do not see what inconvenience would arise from inserting it at the present moment. For this reason, without troubling the House further, I, at any rate, intend to vote for the clause which has been moved by my hon. Friend.

MR. SCLATER - BOOTH (Hants, Basingstoke)

The hon. Member who moved this clause cast no imputation upon the Committee which considered the merits of this Bill, and over which I had the honour of presiding. I will not, therefore, take up the time of the House by defending the action of the Committee. I will merely say that the plan of main drainage proposed by the Bill is a reasonable one, that it will be carried out in the usual way, and that it has received the approval of the most eminent authorities upon the subject of main drainage who exist in the United Kingdom. Then what I desire to put to the House is this—the hon. Gentleman does not go so far as to say that this plan is a bad one, or that it is not required in the interests of the inhabitants of the town of Belfast.


I said nothing at all about the plan.


I am aware of that; but if the hon. Gentleman's Motion is carried, it may have the effect of prejudicing the future progress of the Bill. The hon. Member takes it as a matter of course that the new constituency which he proposes to create will take the line carved out for them by their predecessors; but I do not see that that would at all follow. By assenting to such a clause, I think that the House would be not only setting a very inconvenient precedent, and one that is entirely unknown, but would be doing something calculated to bring the whole conduct of Public and Private Business into confusion. It might also inflict a serious evil upon the town of Belfast by delaying for an indefinite period the prosecution of this main drainage scheme. It is said that the House of Lords will throw out the Bill, or that, at any rate, they will throw out this clause. Undoubtedly, they would have very good reason for doing so, if they found that advantage was taken of the peculiar privileges afforded by our system of Private Bill legislation to prejudge a question which ought to be dealt with by a general measure, and which is, in fact, dealt with by a Bill now before the House which has already received a second reading, and in regard to which it simply rests with the Government to say whether it shall pass into law this Session or not. I therefore trust that the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) will accept the invitation of the Chief Secretary, and will consent to withdraw the Motion. It might really seem, from some of the language which has been used in the debate, that it was the duty of the Corporation of Belfast to propose, in a Private Bill, an extension of the municipal franchise. Not only was it not their duty to do so, but they would have laid themselves open to serious comment if they had endeavoured, by Private Bill legislation, to anticipate the views of Parliament on the general subject. That is a very important question of principle in regard to which, I imagine, there will be very little dispute. I certainly do not know what anomalies might not be introduced into the provisions of a Private Bill, if this clause dealing with the municipal franchise in Ireland is to pass. Then, again, it is quite possible that the question of the municipal franchise may eventually be dealt with in the General Bill in a very different manner. I really think that the House would be taking an unprecedented step if it were to accept the proposal of the hon. Member, and I hope on reconsideration that the hon. Member himself will accept the advice of the Chief Secretary.

MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)

If I could feel sure that the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down is correct in the statement he has made to the House, I should not feel it necessary to rise. He has told us that it only depends on the Government whether the General Bill which is to extend the municipal franchise throughout Ireland shall become law this Session. If I could feel sure that he was authorized to speak for his Party in the other House, or if he will give any intimation that he is so authorized, I will not detain the House for one second further with any remarks of mine. I presume that the silence of the right hon. Gentleman must be taken to mean that while he desires to see the general measure pass, he is not quite sure that his Friends in "another place" would give the same aid in carrying out his wishes that he would himself. Now, I quite feel that the Chief Secretary for Ireland has made a very generous offer to the Irish Members; but if the hon. Member who moved the clause goes to a division upon it, I certainly intend to go into the Lobby with him. I therefore deem it necessary to say why I so intend. I do not believe that the Government are strong enough to carry the General Bill in the other House. I do believe that the general disposition of the other House is to throw out Bills of this nature, and to prevent any kind of extension of the suffrage. They would, therefore, delay the passing of this Bill; and I feel that the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, if he does not agree with me in opinion, will, at any rate, agree with me in the result. I am going to vote for the clause, because it is one which embodies, as I understand it, a principle which has been repeatedly affirmed in this House, and repeatedly rejected in the other. Although, therefore, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary that it is undesirable to get by a side wind that which ought to be asserted in a general Act of Parliament, yet when the broad proposition cannot be obtained, but has been rejected over and over again, I am in favour of obtaining a recognition of the principle in the best way I can. I submit that that is not an unconstitutional course; and I think it will be within the memory of some of the Members of this House that there have been occasions when desirable legislation on the part of this House has been rejected in "another place." I will not go into the wider matter, but some hon. Members will recollect that a clause securing the repeal of the taxes on knowledge found its place into a particular Bill, simply because a more direct measure had been rejected by the House of Lords, and it was known that they would not reject the entire Bill, however reluctant they might be to assent to this one part of it. But, if I understand rightly, there has already been one Private Bill passed in the House of Lords in which the Suffrage Question has been dealt with; and I intend to vote for this clause in the hope that, if a general measure does not pass, at any rate this Bill may pass, and it will be an assertion of the Radicals to allow no opportunity to slip by which an extension of the municipal franchise can be secured.

MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)

The right hon. Gentleman who spoke from the Front Bench on this side of the House (Mr. John Morley) made an appeal to us not to proceed with this Motion, as there is every reason to suppose that it may be settled on the broader questions involved in the general Bill. But we have the best evidence, and I need not go further than the Paper circulated by the Corporation of Belfast against this Motion, to show that they will oppose to the very utmost the settlement of the question on the broader basis; for what do they say? They say that they will be content to allow the Bill to drop, and the population of Belfast to suffer from all the evils they propose to remove by their Bill, rather than allow the working men of Belfast to have the municipal franchise extended. They know perfectly well that the moment an extension of the municipal franchise is secured, the supreme influence of the Tory Party in the Town Council will be destroyed, and the insertion of this clause in the present Bill will be quite sufficient for the purpose. Therefore, in the event of the withdrawal of this clause, all their influence, and that of the Tory Party generally, would be brought to bear upon the other House of Parliament to reject the general measure which the Chief Secretary has kindly offered to push through this House. When the Bill reached the other House it would be immediately dealt with as it has repeatedly been before. Now, what are the facts of the case in regard to the proposal to settle the Irish municipal franchise on a wider basis? We are told that the Bill has been read a second time in this House. How many times has it been already read a second time in the House of Commons and not passed? Will hon. Members be surprised to hear that it has passed the House of Commons four or five times; that it was read a second time 10 years ago, and that it has not yet succeeded in passing the House of Lords? The hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Haslett) has political Friends in the House of Lords, who have slaughtered the Bill over and over again, and we have listened to the latest apologia from the Corporation of the City of Belfast for not accepting the extension of the franchise which my hon. Friend the Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) proposes in his clause. The hon. Member for West Belfast has succeeded in demonstrating to the House his extraordinary ignorance of the state of Irish municipal law, and of the custom and procedure of this House. He said that the term of occupation in Dublin is three years, whereas that provision has been repealed by an Act which became law last year, and it is now enacted that the period shall be 12 months' occupation. That is a specimen of how careful the hon. Member has been in acquiring a knowledge of the law of the subject. Then he also said that under the Municipal Bill the boundaries of Belfast will be extended, whereas there is no such proposal in the Bill at all. That shows the great interest he takes in the general scheme for dealing with the question on a broad basis. We know that there is very little chance of extending the franchise in the borough of Belfast so as to give the ratepayers a voice in the spending of the money, and what we want is that the general body of the people of Belfast should have a voice in the execution of this great work, so that it shall no longer be possible for the richer parts of the town to be well drained, while the poorer parts are badly drained and altogether neglected. The right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Sclater-Booth) said that nobody before the Committee complained of the scheme or of any of its details. We make no complaint of the plan; but what we desire is that the plan, which will take six or seven years to bring to a conclusion, shall be executed under control of the people who are directly interested in its execution. The execution of the plan is far more important to the people of Belfast than many hon. Members seem to suppose, and we want that they should have full control not only over the execution of the work, but over the expenditure connected with it and the raising of the money. We know, further, that this is our only chance of bringing about a change; if we let this Bill go without this clause we shall have no chance whatever. I come now to the offer which has been made by the Chief Secretary, That offer looked a tempting and plausible offer; but I maintain that the right hon. Gentleman has made an offer which he has no power to carry out. He made the offer to pass the Municipal Franchise Bill through this House. So far so good. He has the power to do that; but he has no power to secure that the Bill shall pass through in "another place." We, however, have the power to secure that this clause shall become law; and what we are invited to do is to abandon that which we have power to do for the sake of another measure, the fate of which is extremely doubtful. The offer of the Chief Secretary cannot secure for us the extension of the municipal franchise in the borough of Belfast; but we believe that the passing of this clause would carry out that object, because, in spite of the braggadocia of hon. Members on the other side, I think the House of Lords would pause before they sacrificed the whole of the Bill, and the expense which the promoters have already incurred in connection with it, for the sake of rejecting this provision. Therefore, if this clause is insisted upon and inserted in the Bill, it will result in one of two things—it will either appear in this Private Bill, or the General Bill, dealing with the question on a wider basis, will be allowed to go through the House of Lords. However, by way of a compromise, what I propose to do is this—to move the adjourment of this debate, and that it should be adjourned to such a period as will enable the House to test the power of the Chief Secretary to settle the question on a broad basis. If the General Bill goes through the House of Lords and becomes law, I need hardly say that my hon. Friend will withdraw his clause and any further opposition to the Private Bill; and I have no doubt, if the hon. Members for Belfast are sincere in their professions, they can assist the Chief Secretary very materially in securing that the General Bill shall become law. I will, therefore, move that the debate be adjourned to this day four weeks, so as to give a reasonable time to see if the Chief Secretary can carry out his offer; and then, if the General Bill becomes law, we will withdraw our opposition; but if that Bill is slaughtered by the House of Lords, every Member of this House will recognize the reasonableness, the justice, and the necessity of the Motion of my hon. Friend as the only mode by which we can achieve the object we have in view.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Dillon.)


I think the hon. Member has made a very reasonable proposal, and I hope the House will agree to it without a division. There are two points which are quite clear as far as we are concerned. We think it is a very objectionable proceeding to deal with general questions in a Private Bill. On the other hand, there is no doubt—no one has risen in this debate to deny—that the municipal franchise in Belfast is in a most unsatisfactory state. Even the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Haslett) has admitted that fact. The Government are prepared to give facilities for pomoting the general measure for putting that matter on a proper footing, and I may assume that we may count on the support of the Members on that side of the House. After the speech of the hon. Member for West Belfast I presume they are prepared to do their best in getting the Bill through. It would not, under those circumstances, take very long to pass through this House. It would then have to go to "another place." We have heard predictions made on both sides of the House as to what may happen to the Bill there. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Sclater-Booth) is confident that it will pass. I do not know whether that will be so or not; but if the Bill did not pass hon. Members sitting below the Gangway will have acquired the strongest and most convincing argument in favour of Home Rule they can possibly desire. If the House of Lords were to refuse a Municipal Franchise Bill—to refuse that which the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Haslett) declares to be a proper Bill—an argument would be provided in favour of Home Rule such as could not be answered. I therefore assume, with the right hon. Gentleman, that the Bill will succeed. That being so, before the period to which the hon. Member proposes to adjourn the debate arrives, we shall probably have reached the object desired in an unobjectionable manner. I, therefore, trust that that course will be adopted.


I do not know what course the hon. Gentlemen who represent Belfast in this House may feel it necessary to take on this subject; but it appears to me that if the proposal of the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) is accepted, the town of Belfast may find itself in a somewhat remarkable and awkward position. It is admitted—at least I have not heard it denied—that this Bill is in itself a necessary and a proper Bill; that it contains powers which the Corporation of Belfast ought to possess, and which, indeed, it is necessary for them to have for the proper government of the town. But, Sir, this debate is now proposed to be adjourned until such time as Parliament shall have decided upon a general proposal to reduce the municipal franchise in boroughs throughout Ireland to the point at which hon. Members below the Gangway desire it to stand. Now, I do not imagine that this is the proper moment for discussing whether the municipal franchise of Belfast or of Ireland should be reduced. For myself, I do not think that this franchise is in a satisfactory condition; and it is a matter which may fairly claim to receive full discussion and consideration in this House. I hope the result may be satisfactory, not merely in reference to the municipal franchise in Belfast, but in the other municipal towns of Ireland. Every matter affecting the municipal government of the towns of Ireland will be found exhaustively dealt with in the Report of a Committee over which I had the honour to preside some time ago. But if the course now proposed is taken, what may happen, as it seems to me, to the City of Belfast is this—Supposing that it is found impossible for the general reform of the municipal franchise to be effected even in this House during the present Session, is Belfast on that account to be deprived of those rights and powers which the Corporation think necessary for the proper government of the town, and even for the health of the inhabitants? That is the suggestion. The health of the people is surely of primary importance. It certainly would be most unfair if the postponement of this stage of a Private Bill, until a general measure can be passed, should have the effect of depriving Belfast of the advantages she would obtain under the provisions of this Private Bill. I do not object to an arrangement for the discussion of the larger measure, nor, I imagine, do the hon. Members for Belfast. But I do trust that hon. Members, in whatever part of the House they may sit, and however anxious they may be to deal with the Irish municipal franchise, will also remember that the powers of this Bill are of great importance, because they materially affect the health of a large population. If I am correctly informed, under a Standing Order of the House of Lords, the 25th of June is the last day for receiving Private Bills from this House; and as the adjournment of the debate has now been moved until the 26th, there is considerable danger of the present Bill being lost for this Session. I cannot, therefore, agree to the proposal for adjournment.

MR. DWYER GRAY (Dublin, St. Stephen's Green)

The right hon. Baronet seems to be unaware that the general question has been discussed and settled, as far as the principle is concerned, by passing the second reading. What the opponents of the proposal of my hon. Friend are evidently anxious to secure is that this Bill shall pass through the House without any assurance that the general measure should be dealt with at all. We do not wish to stop this Bill; but what we want to do, in order to meet the objection of the right Gentleman the Chief Secretary—an ob- jection, I think, very much to be regretted, and one which certainly very much astonished me—is to secure, by some means, either by means of the General Bill or otherwise, the extension in Belfast of the franchise so as to assimilate it with that of all the great English towns before Belfast is permitted to incur this enormous expense. It has been suggested on all sides that this is a matter of very great and extreme urgency; but that is really not the view of the authorities in Belfast, and that argument does not hold water for a moment, seeing that the Bill has reference to a subject that has been under discussion for 15 or 20 years, and therefore manifestly is not a matter which must be dealt with instantly. A main drainage scheme, no doubt, is very desirable; but the carrying out of it is not a matter that vitally affects the town of Belfast. In trying to fix on my hon. Friend the responsibility of delay in the event of the House of Lords throwing out the Bill, or the clause we seek to insist on, the Chief Secretary is putting the saddle on the wrong horse. It is completely within the power of the promoters of the Bill to secure the passage of the Bill if they will consent to this clause being inserted. The House of Lords is not at all likely to throw it out of their own Motion. It would be only when entreated to do so by the promoters of the Bill that they would dream of throwing it out if this House is determined to insert it. It is, therefore, unfair to endeavour to fix on us the responsibility of throwing it out. The responsibility must rest solely upon the promoters. But I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that he need not have the slightest fear on that account. If the promoters abandon the Bill, they must pay the costs out of their own pockets. They may bluster and threaten to withdraw the Bill; but it is absolutely certain they will do nothing of the kind, because the members of the Town Council of Belfast have as good an appreciation of their own pecuniary interests as any Gentlemen in or out of this House. The right hon. Baronet alluded to the Standing Order. He thinks that by hanging up the Bill until the 28th of June its passage may be endangered; but surely he is aware that, although the 25th of June is fixed as the last day on which the House of Lords will receive a Pri- vate Bill from this House, it is perfectly easy to secure the suspension of the Standing Order. The extension of the franchise is a matter of great importance. I certainly have been under the impression that it was the Orange Members for Belfast who have been the Gentlemen to propose this extension of the municipal franchise; and yet I have observed with surprise that they have taken no part in this discussion.


Order, order! The hon. Gentleman is now travelling beyond the reasons to be urged for the adjournment of the debate.


I will only say, in conclusion, that the sole reason which I have heard urged against the Amendment is the suggestion that the Standing Order of the House of Lords would interfere with the progress of the Bill. The Lords would, I believe, suspend their Standing Order. I would urge that there should be a postponement of this Bill for, say, four or five weeks, until we have an assurance that the Municipal Franchise Bill will be passed in the other House. In the meantime, we ought not to lose the opportunity of asserting the principle in the present Bill.

MR. DE COBAIN (Belfast, E.)

The hon. Member who has just sat down has taunted the Belfast Members with having maintained an attitude of silence during this debate. I had, however, risen three or four times when the Speaker called upon hon. Gentlemen sitting below the Gangway. As regards the principle of the clause introduced by the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton)——


Order, order! The hon. Gentleman is, perhaps, not aware that the Question now before the House is the Question of the Adjournment, and to that Question the hon. Member must confine himself.


I bow, Sir, to your ruling. As regards the Question of Adjournment, I am not a believer in the adjournment of either Imperial or local questions—questions which may more or less seriously affect the interests of the nation. I think this adjournment would present no new phase of the question; and, therefore, I think the Chief Secretary for Ireland has made a very fair proposition, and I entirely agree with it. I am thoroughly in favour of the principle which he has presented of the extension of local influence in municipal matters; but I cannot understand the new phase of the question introduced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.


Order, order! The hon. Gentleman must confine himself to the Question of Adjournment.


I only wish to point out that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has supported the views of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway who have spoken in favour of the adjournment; and I thought that I might be permitted to say that I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman without being out of Order. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in that respect, is at variance, as I understand him, with the Chief Secretary, who preceded him in this discussion, and who I understood to be in favour of giving facilities for the progress of the Bill. I think that a question of this kind should not be postponed, and I hope the House will reject the Motion for Adjournment.


I have only a few words to say on the Question of Adjournment, and they are these—If the House refuses now to come to a conclusion in the matter, and if we defer it too long, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for the Corporation to get the Bill through the obstacles which would be interposed to its progress in the other House. I may say that, if the House agrees to an adjournment for a fortnight or three weeks, we should not be opposed to that, if it is not now agreed to take the sense of the House upon it. The question is a very serious and important one for Belfast; and I hope that if this question of the municipal franchise is taken up it will be dealt with by the Government, and not by a Private Bill. Therefore, if the Government will agree to take the matter up, I have no objection, so far as I am concerned, to an adjournment of the Belfast Bill for three weeks in the meantime.

Question put, and agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be adjourned till Monday, the twenty-eighth day of June next."—(Mr. Sexton.)

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "twenty-eighth," in order to insert the word "twenty-first,"—(Sir James Corry,)—instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the word 'twenty-eighth' stand part of the Question."


I am prepared to accept the hon. Baronet's Amendment.

MR. T. M. HEALY (Londonderry, S.)

I would like to ask the Government upon what day they will be able to take the broader Bill, as that must govern the view of the Irish Members as to date? We do not think the House of Lords would have an opportunity of considering this Bill for at least four weeks; and if they were asked to do so in a shorter period, their Lordships are very fond of complaining that they have not been allowed sufficient time to consider Bills of this sort. The General Bill now stands for Wednesday next; but it stands very low down on the Paper, and cannot be reached on that day. It is the last of 20 or 30 Orders. On Thursday we have the Home Rule Bill, and on Friday the ordinary Motions. Therefore, the first day on which it can be taken is Monday, so that there will have been one week gone. I would, therefore, ask what facilities will be given to press forward the other Bill at once?


I think it can be taken on Friday. I would suggest to hon. Members that they should accept the suggestion made by those who represent Belfast. If it comes on, and there is nothing to delay its further progress, it can pass; if anything does happen to prevent the Bill being gone on with, they can propose a further adjournment. We will do all we can to further the Bill here, and send it up to "another place," and if it is accepted before the 21st this Bill can be dealt with. If a further adjournment is required, the matter can be duly considered. I think it would be of great advantage, not only to this Bill, but to the General Bill, that as far as possible we should come to an agreement.

MR. SEXTON (Sligo, S.)

Allow me to say, Sir, that I accept the suggestion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but if the other Bill be not passed, I will reserve to myself the right of making a further proposal until the Lords have declared how they intend to deal with the question. The distinct understanding is, that this Bill is to wait until the Municipal Franchise Bill has passed in the House of Lords.


Does the hon. Member withdraw the 28th?



Question put, and negatived.

Question, "That the word 'twenty-first' be there inserted," put, and agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Debate adjourned till Monday 21st June.

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