HC Deb 06 May 1887 vol 314 cc1228-36

Order for Second Reading read.


I rise in fulfilment of a pledge which I gave some days ago to the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton), that I would take the first opportunity which presented itself of asking the House to read this Bill a second time, so that it may be proceeded with and brought to an issue. A considerable number of hon. Members were opposed to the scope of this Bill, and I have had great difficulty in getting the blocks removed; but I have at last succeeded in so arranging matters that if the measure is read a second time, when we get into Committee the extension of the municipal franchise will be limited to the borough of Belfast, and we shall be able to dispose of the Bill at once. The question is, therefore, of interest to Belfast alone. By so limiting it, I desire to give effect to the wish which has been expressed not only by the hon. Member for West Belfast, but also by the other Members for the borough. We were anxious that this ex- tension of the franchise should be applied to all the boroughs of Ireland; but we found that it would be impossible to carry the Bill in that way. We have, therefore, decided that an Amendment should be accepted, confining the extension of the municipal franchise to the borough of Belfast. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir James Corry.)

MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)

The hon. Baronet need not have wasted so many words as he did on the question of the second reading of this Bill, because the measure is one which has passed through this House 50 times, I suppose, but which has always been killed "over the way." The hon. Baronet has made a most extraordinary proposition, and one to which I, for one, can never consent—that is to say, that this Bill, which is to extend to Ireland the franchise which is enjoyed by the English people, shall, in Committee, be so restricted as to apply to Belfast alone, Are we to put a stigma, a mark of degradation, on all the rest of Ireland? Are we to consent, and do the Government consent, that this Bill, which now applies to the whole of Ireland, shall in Committee be amended so as to apply to Belfast alone? I see opposite to me hon. Gentlemen who were very indignant at being considered "conspirators" with anyone or for anything. Well, I wish to ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Holmes), who is so soon to be made an Irish Judge, and who is to deal out impartial justice to all Her Majesty's subjects, whether he is willing to be a party to the second reading of a Bill to extend the municipal franchise to the whole of Ireland, intending to lend his support to the hon. Baronet in Committee when the hon. Baronet proposes to confine the Bill to Belfast? Is it only in Belfast in which the municipal franchise is to be extended—the law-abiding and loyal borough of Belfast, where they only kill policemen and do not get hanged for it; where 40 of Her Majesty's subjects during the past 12 months have been murdered. Of all the cool and audacious and extraordinary proposals that I ever heard made, this is the coolest, most audacious, and most extraordinary. And are we to do this without a word of explanation? What has Ireland done, that she should not have the principle of this Bill applied to her generally? The principle of the Bill has, as I say, been affirmed in this House over and over again. What is the Act of Union for? Are you Unionists not professing the desirability of applying to Ireland equal laws with England and Scotland; and is it, forsooth, for you who are dying to give my countrymen, the benefit of the English connection, to propose to limit the measure of justice contained in this Bill to the borough of Belfast? I suppose this limitation was the price given to the hon. Baronet the authority on Privilege (Sir Charles Lewis) for taking off his block to the Bill. Are we to understand that the Government assent to this proposal? I see a long array of authorities opposite to me. I see on the Front Bench opposite the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Colonel King-Harman). Ho, no doubt, would like to exclude every part of Ireland but Belfast. Are all the Loyalists outside Belfast to be excluded—all those who are longing to expire on the altar of the throne? Are not other loyal boroughs, such as Enniskillen, Banbridge, Down, Coleraine, to be included? Is there no corn in Egypt for any place but Belfast? Was ever anything so grotesque ever heard of in the whole range of Parliamentary proposals? And this is a proposal which emanates from a man who has been kicked out of Belfast. What are the Loyalists of Armagh to think of this proposal? Are they not to be put on an equal footing with English and Scotch constituencies? Her Majesty's Government are ready to humour their followers, who are eager to make sidelong attacks upon Bills which the Government pass in this House, knowing that they are sure to get knifed in the other. We shall be delighted to let this Bill go through, subject to some few Amendments, to make the franchise in Ireland what it is in England. We do not wish to extend it one bit beyond what it is in England. If we allow this Bill to go through in its present form, will they give us an understanding that, in the House of Lords, they will not add a provision to confine it to Belfast? I am surprised that Tory Gentlemen, who tell us so much about their love for Ireland, and their desire to see her prosper, and their anxiety to see equal laws in the three countries, and to see extended to Ireland every privilege they enjoy themselves—I am surprised that, on this occasion, they should allow a Bill to be passed on the understanding that it shall apply to Belfast alone. I will not move the adjournment of the debate; but if we do not get an understanding from the Government there will be plenty of my hon. Friends who are left to do it. Unless we are told that it is intended to extend to the whole of Ireland the privileges which the hon. Baronet has said he wishes to confine to the single city of Belfast, this Bill will be opposed. It is no answer to us to tell us that the Belfast Main Drainage Bill contains a provision of this character. Almost every Drainage Bill that has been passed for Ireland has contained one. There was one in the Rathmines Bill of 1885; and to come down to the Pembroke Bill, to the Clontarf Bill, to the Galway, Kingston, and Bray Bills, they all contained that provision. There is one in every Bill which creates a municipal authority in Ireland. I thought we had knocked the Chairman of Committees out of time on that question, so much so that we got a majority of this House to support us. The provision was proposed in this Bill by Sir Charles Dilke, and the Chairman of Ways and Moans, to use his own expression, said that the Rathmines Clause had been passed per incuriam. Every Irish Private Bill, dealing with municipal authority, from Galway to Bray, and from Clontarf to Kilmainham, has contained this clause. We voted down the Chairman of Ways and Means, and carried the Bill against him, just as we had carried the principle in the Rathmines Bill against the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Thanet, by the aid of Sir Charles Dilke. That being so, it cannot be said that because we have taken advantage of separate Private Bills to adopt this provision, we need not necessarily apply the principle to more than one place in a Public Bill. The plain answer to hon. Gentlemen opposite is, either take this Belfast provision and swallow it as if it were gall, or postpone this legislation until you receive from on High power to extend to all towns in Ireland the privileges it is proposed to confer on Belfast. we take advantage of the Belfast Private Bill, as we did of other Drainage Bills, to insert Franchise Clauses to that town; but it would be monstrous to confine the powers of a Public Bill to one town.


My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary (Mr. A. J. Balfour) would certainly have been in his place, if he had thought that this Bill would have come on for discussion to-night. I myself had no idea that the second reading would be moved to-night. It certainly would be a very unusual thing at this hour, a quarter past 1 in the morning, to proceed to the second reading of a Bill to extend the municipal franchise to a considerable number of boroughs in Ireland. The Government have said, again and again, that they intend, on the earliest opportunity, to deal with this question of Local Government generally. I may call the attention of the House to the fact that, even if this Bill were carried as it stands, it would not have the effect that the hon. and learned Gentleman who has spoken seems to think it would, of extending the franchise in such towns as Coleraine, Down, Enniskillen, or the other places mentioned. we are not prepared to give a pledge that we can accept the principle of a Bill like this, when we have stated on more than one occasion that it is our intention, on the earliest opportunity that the Business of the House will permit, to introduce a Bill dealing with Local Government. I think it would be inconvenient to continue the discussion at this hour, and I would suggest that the debate be adjourned to a time when the Chief Secretary will be in his place, and we should have an opportunity of expressing our views on this subject. I beg to move the adjournment of the debate.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Attorney General for Ireland.)

MR. JOHNSTON (Belfast, S.)

I am afraid I can scarcely enter into the subject-matter of this Bill on the Motion for the adjournment of the debate. I have great respect for the right hon. and learned Gentleman who moved the Motion, but I hope the House will not assent to it. we who have introduced this Bill, and have waited anxiously for an opportunity to pass it since the commencement of the Session, are most desirous of availing ourselves of this chance. We desire to take the sense of the House upon it. The hon. Member for Mid Cork (Dr. Tanner) challenged the Bill at an earlier period of the Session, and when his block was removed the hon. Baronet the Member for North Antrim (Sir Charles Lewis) put down another block. If hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House had allowed the Bill to proceed when it was introduced, it would have had a second reading by this time, and probably would have been passed before the hon. Member for North Antrim came back to the House. For my part, I do not desire to be a party to restricting this Bill to Belfast alone. I think the proposal to extend to the Parliamentary boroughs of Ireland the same privilege in regard to Municipal Corporations as is enjoyed by similar boroughs in England is a good one. For my part, I trust the Bill will be passed, and that the House to-night will give it a second reading.

MR. O'DOHERTY (Donegal, N.)

As a burgess of Derry, I have only to say that I hope this Bill will be passed, and that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will not persist in this Motion. It is a Bill which we are all anxious to pass. I do not hear a word from the place I represent in opposition to the extension of the principle contained in this Bill to all the boroughs of Ireland, and I trust that the Government will allow it to pass, seeing that similar measures have been adopted for the past 40 years.

MR. EWART (Belfast, N.)

I will not occupy the House for more than a few moments; but I just wish to say that the Motion of the hon. Baronet (Sir James Corry) is, in effect, carrying out a compromise proposed by the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means, to which compromise the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) was a party. That compromise was on the basis of a Bill being brought forward, or, rather, being continued, so as to deal only with the franchise in Belfast. This Bill is for the whole of Ireland; but it is now proposed to put it actually and really in the place of a Bill which was indicated on a former occasion—that is, the Bill introduced by the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh (Colonel Saunderson). I think we have some reason to complain that the hon. Member for West Belfast has not carried out the arrangement which was made a few days ago, whereby the Bill extending the municipal franchise in Belfast would have been carried. I think we have some reason to complain that he has not adhered to that arrangement.

MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)

I have no power on any occasion to control the individual action of every Member of the Party to which I belong. My position in this matter is peculiar, inasmuch as it affects the relations between myself and my constituents. As the House is aware, I have endeavoured, on several occasions, to relieve the people of Belfast from the burden sought to be imposed upon them by an extensive system of main drainage being carried into law, without power being given to them to elect representatives on the Corporation. As the House is also aware, I, at length, succeeded in putting a Franchise Clause into the Belfast Main Drainage Bill; but the Lords struck it out. It becomes a question whether this action on the part of the Lords should be submitted to or not, and on the 20th instant the House will be asked to consider the position of the Lords in the matter. I said, in the discussion which took place, that on any Bill which contained a clause conferring the municipal franchise to the people of Belfast I should be willing to allow it to pass into law. It, is obvious that my objection to the Belfast Main Drainage Bill must disappear, if, in either a Private Bill or a Public Bill, a clause for the extension of the franchise is inserted. I wish now to say that I shall vote for the second reading of this Bill, whatever shape it assumes. Even if it assumes the shape of extending the municipal franchise to Belfast alone, I shall be obliged to vote for it in discharge of my duty to my constituents; hut I say, at the same time, that the Mover of the Bill has given very unsatisfactory grounds to the House for the proposal he makes. He says one of the grounds was the necessity of removing blocks. Well, we are not in any way responsible for those blocks, after that of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Cork (Dr. Tanner) was removed. the other ground was the impossibility of passing a full Bill; but I am not aware of such an impossibility. I think I have made my personal position clear to the House, and that I have not been guilty of any breach of arrangement.


My Motion, that the debate should be adjourned, arose from the circumstances that I understood from the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for North Longford (Mr. T. M. Healy) that unless a pledge was given by the Government that they would support the Bill as it is framed in all its stages, the hon. And learned Member and his Friends would be obliged to oppose it. I have shown that I could not do that, the Chief Secretary for Ireland not being here; but if it is a question of the second reading merely, I will agree to that, and will withdraw my Motion for the adjournment of the debate. It will, however, have to be understood that the Government do not give any pledge as to the principle of the Bill.


I must say it is a most remarkable thing, looking at the very small amount of Business of a private nature in reference to Ireland that the Chief Secretary for Ireland has to attend to, if he could not foresee that, the block being taken off this Bill, No. 21 on the Paper, it would in all likelihood be moved by one of his supporters. The right hon. Gentleman appears to me to be wanting in his duty to this House, if he does not choose to come down when there is Irish Business before the House. He has altogether deserted the House at Question time, and leaves it at the mercy of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Colonel King-Harman). Thought hon. and gallant Gentleman was here when the second reading of the Bill was moved, and if he is able to take the place of the Chief Secretary at Question time, surely he is able to take it now. The right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite has now withdrawn his opposition.


We did not oppose the Bill.


But the right hon. and learned Gentleman moved the adjournment of the debate, which was tantamount to killing the Bill, because, of course, our hon. Friend of Privilege fame after to-night would put the block on. I see the hon. and learned Gentleman the English Attorney General in the House. We have always found him a courteous, fair, and friendly opponent, and very liberal-minded. I would submit to him that it is most unfair to Irish Members to leave us alone with Orange officials, when these Bills are brought in, so that there is no Englishman interposed between us and the worst form of Orangeism, whether you take it as represented by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel King-Harman), or I would say, in spite of his disclaimers, by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Irish Attorney General. I trust that the next time this Bill comes on the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary will find himself able to be in his place. I hope the Bill will be allowed to pass now, on the understanding that we shall have some English protection, even of a Tory character, when the Bill comes on at the next stage. I trust, as I say, that on the next occasion the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary will be here to answer the very reasonable demand we make—namely, that this Bill shall be allowed to pass in its entirety, and apply to Ireland as a whole.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Question again proposed.

DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid)

The hon. Gentleman the Member for South Belfast (Mr. Johnston) appears to have expressed considerable dissatisfaction at my having blocked this Bill at an earlier period of the Session. My principal reason for doing that was simply and solely, Sir, that the Bill was promoted by a Gentleman who is a Member of a Party who have blocked every Irish Bill we are seeking to pass this Session. I may say that, were it not that my hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) came and spoke to me on the subject, I should have made it a personal matter, and should have declined to remove the block. I wish to correct the hon. Gentleman opposite, and say that it was merely in consequence of the appeal of my hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast that I removed my Notice of opposition to the Bill.

Original Question put, and agreed to.