§ Bill, as amended, considered.
§ New Clause—
§ (Execution of Main Drainage Scheme.)
§ "Until the New Council shall have been elected in manner described in the preceding section, no action shall be taken nor liability incurred in respect of any scheme which may be passed into Law during the present Session of Parliament for the Main Drainage of the Borough of Belfast,"—(Mr. Sexton,)
§ —brought up, and read the first time.
§ MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
In moving the insertion of this clause in the Bill very little argument is required from me to commend it to the House. It is, in fact, for the purpose of completing an arrangement made by the House in Committee. The House has determined to increase the municipal franchise of Belfast from 5,000 to 20,000, in order to secure that such schemes as that for the main drainage of Belfast should not be proceeded with against the opinion and without control of the great body of householders. The House has further declared that next November all the seats on the Town Council shall become 1555 vacant, and shall be refilled at an election to be held then; therefore, it is apparent that the present Town Council will have no control over the works for the main drainage scheme after November. But what security have we as to the action of the present Town Council between the passing of the Main Drainage Bill and the elections in November? There is great danger that the present Council, conscious that the term of their power is approaching an end, may make contracts and otherwise proceed with the scheme, plunging the borough into a liability that may continue for 30 or 40 years. My Amendment will prevent that. Resolutions passed at public meetings in Belfast have been forwarded to me, and they express what is the general opinion in the town, that there is no confidence in the Town Council elected on the restricted franchise. I ask the House to complete the action it has taken, and to make the control it has vested in the ratepayers a real and effective control in regard to the main drainage scheme. If the House does not adopt this clause, that control will be illusory, and I cannot regard the Bill without this clause as satisfying the claim I have made, and giving the ratepayers that security they have a right to expect after the action of the House.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."—(Mr. Sexton.)
MR. EWAET (Belfast, N.)
I rise to oppose the Motion of the hon. Member for West Belfast. The main drainage scheme is one upon which no time should be lost, for the drainage of Belfast is in a deplorable condition. The effect of the Amendment of the hon. Member would be to delay all operations for a year. The Corporation of Belfast are prevented from discharging any sewage matter into the Lough until an outlet sewer and settling tank are completed. These operations are to be carried on in the waters of the Lough, on ground which is bare at low water and covered at high water, and they can only be carried on during the summer and autumn months. The contracts for these works are not heavy, not more than £60,000 or £70,000, and they are the only contracts that it would be necessary to enter into for a long period. 1556 If the Amendment of the hon. Member is carried it will delay operations until next year, a delay of at least 12 months. Already the town has suffered a year's delay in these works through the action of the hon. Member, and I hope the House will mark its disapproval of the action of the hon. Member. Instead of the clause of the hon. Member, I have given Notice of an Amendment which I will move on the consideration of the Lords' Amendments to the Main Drainage Bill, to the effect that no action shall be taken, or liability incurred, in respect to these works authorized by the Act, unless and until approval has been expressed by a meeting of the ratepayers.
§ MR. EWART
The portion of the works I have referred to as being necessary to proceed with before the winter will bear but a very small proportion to the whole. Seeing that the health of the town has suffered so much from the want of a scheme of main drainage, I hope the House will not support the further delay this clause would occasion. We have had a good deal of discussion about Belfast for months past, and reference has often been made to the lamentable loss of life in what may be called a small civil war. Strangely enough, this commenced about the time the hon. Member made his appearance there as an advocate of Home Rule. But the loss of life in those disputes is as nothing as compared to the loss of life the hon. Member wishes to make provision for——
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)
I rise to Order, Sir. Is it in Order to say the loss of life the hon. Member wishes to make provision for?
§ MR. SPEAKER
I am sure the hon. Member does not wish to imply that the hon. Member for West Belfast desires to provide for the loss of life?
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
I confidently appeal to the House—to all sections of the House—to vote for the proposal of my hon. Friend. 1557 I make the appeal in confidence, not merely because of the merits of the question being on the side of my hon. Friend, but because in all previous stages of the Bill my hon. Friend has been able successfully to oppose the narrow policy of the hon. Gentleman opposite by the assistance of votes from both sides of the House. I trust the impartial manner in which this Bill has been discussed and dealt with in previous stages will continue to the end, and that when it leaves this House the credit of passing it may be shared among all sections of the House. I may recall it to the attention of the House that not a single proposal has been made by my hon. Friend that has not been opposed by the hon. Member for North Belfast and the hon. Member for Mid Armagh (Sir James Corry), and I cite this as a precedent to show that the burden of proof lies with hon. Gentlemen opposite, who have been defeated when opposing Motions of my hon. Friend. The House will remember that the whole action of the House in reference to this Bill has been abnormal. In the Main Drainage Bill my hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) was enabled to induce the House to deal with the municipal franchise of Belfast. It was objected by the Chairman of Ways and Means, who is responsible for Private Bill legislation, that this was an entirely anomalous, unprecedented, irregular, and inconvenient course; and I must say, speaking generally, that his argument was well worth consideration. But all sections of the House were so convinced of the absolute necessity of enlarging the municipal franchise of Belfast in view of the main drainage scheme, that the conviction overcame these objections and caused the acceptance of my hon. Friend's proposal and the introduction into the Main Drainage Bill of a comparatively extraneous matter, the extension of the municipal franchise. The House took this unusual, if not entirely unprecedented course, on the ground that while tho main drainage scheme was large and important as affecting the whole body of ratepayers, on the other hand the franchise was so narrow, that it was right the latter should be extended, that the people of Belfast should have a voice in the control of the large expenditure. 1558 Now, is not the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Belfast (Mr. Ewart) asking the House to stultify itself on the whole ground upon which it took an exceptional course, by removing from the ratepayers, to whom you have now extended the franchise, all control over the drainage scheme until November? The hon. Gentleman says the delay in the Bill will cause great loss of life. I should be inclined to pay more attention to that argument were it not for the fact that this scheme and this extraordinary anxiety for the preservation of life in Belfast occurs with suspicious sequence to the choice of my hon. Friend to be Representative of West Belfast, and his efforts to bring the municipal expenditure of Belfast within the purview and control of all the ratepayers. There will be no avoidable delay. Surely the hon. Gentleman opposite knows that even if the clause is rejected, no serious action, so far as the actual works are concerned, can be taken yet? Large contracts have to be made, on which I will say a word presently, and great preparations have to be made, and it is quite impossible to get through these preliminaries before November; therefore there will be no loss of time in actual works. It is said the expenditure before November will be small; but contracts may be entered into involving very heavy expenditure indeed. I have no desire to cast doubt on the bona fides of hon. Gentlemen, who, no doubt, mean what they say; but surely their words have no binding effect upon the Corporation while the latter has power to make these contracts. I say that unless this clause is passed the present Corporation of Belfast will have the power to enter into contracts for the expenditure of £300,000, and that in face of the fact that this House has decided that the Corporation is not competent to enter into such an expenditure until the large body of the ratepayers have made their voice heard. When this Bill passes the Council will dissolve next November, and it is notorious that not a single member of the Council will be re-elected, so that the House—if this clause is not accepted—will come to the astounding decision that a Corporation that will not be re-elected shall have the prospective power of saddling the ratepayers with an expenditure of £300,000. I recognize with my 1559 hon. Friend the impartial spirit with which hon. Members have acted in regard to this Bill, and I trust that spirit will prevail to the end of the proceedings. The House has decided over and over again that the ratepayers should have control over the large expenditure upon the drainage scheme, and the way to give effect to that decision is to prevent the present Corporation taking action until the ratepayers have expressed their opinion by the election of a new Council.
§ MR. CHANCE
The hon. Member who said that there was an annual loss of 200 lives from want of a main drainage scheme for Belfast did not even see this was a heavy accusation against the Corporation that for half-a-century made no attempt to remedy the evils. In reference to what the hon. Member has said as to the Amendment he proposes to move to the Main Drainage Bill, I am quite sure it would be out of Order on the consideration of the Lords' Amendments; and without such a clause as this there is no guarantee that the Corporation, in which the people have no confidence, would not burden the town with an expenditure of £300,000.
§ MR. SEXTON
Before we go to a Division, Sir, may I ask you a question? The hon. Member for North Belfast has stated that it is his intention, on the consideration of the Lords' Amendments to the Main Drainage Bill, to move the insertion of a clause to provide for a town meeting to consider the scheme. I have to ask you, Sir, will it be competent for the hon. Member to enter upon any other matters than the acceptance or rejection of the Lords' Amendments?
§ MR. SPEAKER
Any Amendment proposed by any hon. Member in this House must be relevant to the Lords' Amendment then under consideration.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 89; Noes 71: Majority 18.—(Div. List, No. 212.)
§ Clause added.
§ MR. SEXTON
I ask the House to allow the third reading to be taken now, because the Main Drainage Bill comes on on the 20th, and if this Bill is delayed a further postponement of that Bill will be necessary.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—(Mr. Sexton.)
§ Question put, and agreed to.