HC Deb 19 May 1887 vol 315 cc627-33

(Sir James Corry, Mr. Ewart, Mr. Johnston.)


[Progress 12th May.]

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 1 (Short title).

MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)

This is a Bill of considerable importance, and a large number of important Amendments have been given Notice of, some of them, I have reason to believe, likely to give rise to considerable debate. Such a debate could not be satisfactorily taken at this late hour, and no report of the proceedings can reach my constituents and others in Ireland very much interested. I beg, therefore, to move, Sir, that you do report Progress.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Sexton.)


My reason for pressing forward the Bill now is to fulfil a pledge given in the House in connection with another measure. We pledged ourselves to bring forward this measure as quickly as possible, and therefore I am anxious to proceed with it at once.

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

I hope the Committee will agree to the Motion of my hon. Friend (Mr. Sexton). There is one condition upon which we might go on now, and that is that the hon. Baronet shall not persist in his Amendment to exclude the rest of Ireland from the provisions of the Bill, applying them only to Belfast. If he can see his way not to press that, then I think we can concur, and the Bill can go through as a matter of course. We are now without the presence of any responsible Member of the Government, and that is a somewhat astonishing thing. Replying to a Question the other night, the Parliamentary Under Secretary for Ireland said that, when the Bill came on, we should have a. statement of the policy of the Government thereon, and when I recalled this to the attention of the Patronage Secretary to the Treasury, and asked him what the Government would do, he unfortunately was not able to inform me. Had we persisted, we should have beaten the Government on the Motion of the Attorney General. I understand the hon. Member for South Belfast (Mr. Johnston) is opposed to the Motion of the hon. Baronet the Member for Mid Armagh, and that the hon. Member for East Belfast (Mr. De Cobain), and other distinguished Members on the other side, are opposed to the exclusion of all Ireland from the Bill. It is really an all Ireland Bill, and I am sure my hon. Friend (Mr. Sexton) would not press his present Motion if we could pass the Bill with all Ireland included in it. The municipal franchise which this Bill would extend to Ireland exists in England and Scotland, and has done so for 15 or 20 years. The Committee will not sanction this exceptional treatment of one Municipality in the face of so many professions to treat all Ireland upon equal terms with England. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberland) is not going to exclude all Ireland from the provisions of a law that exists in England and Scotland, confining them strictly to Belfast. Absolutely, at the present moment, if there should, be a necessity for a municipal election in Limerick, there is one of the wards of that borough without sufficient electors to have a contest. It would take 20 electors to have a contest; you must have 10 to fill up the nomination papers for A, and 10 more to fill up the nominations for B; and in one ward of Limerick there are only 18 electors! Under such circumstances, is it not absolutely absurd to restrict this Bill to Belfast? I think it is too absurd for anybody to consent to it. Will the Solicitor General for England (Sir Edward Clarke) vote for a Motion restricting this Bill to Belfast? If the Government are reasonable, I am sure my hon. Friend will withdraw this Motion. Give us the benefit of this extension of the law to the whole of Ireland, and you will find it will tend to facilitate the progress of Business. Will you refuse us that franchise that England has enjoyed for 20 years? When the Bill passed the second reading, it was applied to the whole of Ireland; it passed into Committee with the understanding that the Government would make a statement upon it; and now we have the Bill with the Motion of the hon. Baronet the Member for Mid Armagh (Sir James Corry) confining it to Belfast. If you pass a Coercion Bill for us, at all events give us the benefit of your English Law for the whole of Ireland.

MR. JOHNSTON (Belfast, S.)

I hope the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) will withdraw his opposition, and allow this Bill to go on. As the hon. and learned Member for North Longford (Mr. T. M. Healy) said, I am entirely at one with and will vote with those who resist the distinction being made between Belfast and the rest of Ireland; but, at the same time, I trust that, whatever may be the result of a Division on the question, hon. Members will not deprive oven one portion of Ireland of what unquestionably is the right of all Municipal Boroughs in Ireland—that is, to be placed on the same footing with Municipal Corporations in England. I hope the hon. Member for West Belfast will not persist with his Motion; and if there is a Division on the question, I shall certainly vote for the extension of the Bill to all Ireland.

MR. CHANCE (Kilkenny, S.)

I only wish to say that, whether the Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for Mid Armagh (Sir James Corry) passes or does not pass, it will make no substantial difference in the borough representation, except that it will allow a greater number of people to vote. The Orange population of the North will, for the first time, give a vote in the return of an Orange representative, and equally the Nationalist Party elsewhere will return their representatives by greater numbers.

MR. EWART (Belfast, N.)

May I be allowed to recall the exact position in which the promoters stand in regard to this Bill? At your suggestion, Mr. Courtney, the Belfast Main Drainage Bill was postponed to May 20, that is to say, our next Sitting. You made the suggestion that in the interval steps should be taken to push forward the Bill for the extension of the Municipal Franchise of Belfast, and my hon. Friend has done his best to carry out this compromise—this arrangement. This Bill was put down for to-night, to meet the convenience of hon. Members opposite; and now we are met with the request that it shall be a Bill for the whole of Ireland. [Cries of "It is in the Bill!"] While I sympathize with the desire for this extension, it must be obvious that it is too large a subject to be taken up now; and under present circumstances, I hope hon. Members will assist us to get the measure through, and also the Main Drainage Bill that comes on tomorrow, for I must say we are doing our best to carry out the arrangement arrived at.


I just wish to say that it is utterly impossible to pass this measure through for the whole of Ireland. [Cries of "Why?"] The hon. Member himself (Mr. Sexton), in making the addition to the Belfast Main Drainage Bill, only made the extension to Belfast, and I have brought in the Bill now as the result of the compromise and undertaking I gave.


The hon. Baronet is entirely mistaken. The majority of the Committee is not on his side; it rests here. It rests with the Liberal Unionists; but neither the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington), nor the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain), could vote for a Bill to restrict to Belfast the application of a law that extends to the whole of England, and that we say ought to be applied to the whole of Ireland. I challenge the noble Marquess who holds the balance of power in this House to vote for the application to Belfast alone, against the rest of Ireland, of a principle that has been the Law of England for 20 years. He would not do it; the most advanced or the most retrograde Unionist would not do it. I have several times tried to corkscrew the Government as to their intentions; but I have failed to get a reply. I have asked at Question time, and I was told I should get an answer when the Bill came on; but when the Bill comes on, the Government run away, and so this thing goes on. Will English Members support this exclusion of all Ireland? So far as the South of Ireland is concerned, it is wholly Nationalist. How will it matter then, except that you give a number of people votes who have not got them now? When Sir Charles Dilke was a Member of this House, he visited Ireland, and his Report has shown that absolutely in the City of Water-ford—


I must remind the hon. and learned Member that the Motion is to report Progress.

MR. FINCH-HATTON (Lincolnshire. Spalding)

The Bill is one to amend the Municipal Corporations (Ireland) Act, and it is now proposed to confine its operation to Belfast. Why is it necessary to do that? I should like to know the reason?


Still no response from the Government Bench. Here we have 10 Gentlemen representing the Government, and they have not all lost the gift of speech. It is a most unreasonable silence. We do not expect a voice to be raised in application of Scotch Law to the question. I will ask the Solicitor General for England, or the Attorney General for England, or the Patronage Secretary, or the Financial Secretary, or any other Gentleman, to rise and say what the Government are going to do? It is most unreasonable that we should go to a Division without this. I scarcely know how to vote myself. Here is a Motion to report Progress, and though I support it, I would rather see the Bill go through in its entirety. Do the Government support or oppose it? Let us have a little "light and leading."


I can only say that if there is an attempt to push it through as it stands the Bill will be dropped. [Cries of"Why?"]


The hon. Baronet (Sir James Corry) forgets that after the second reading, a Bill becomes the property of the House. But really this conduct of the Government is most extraordinary. I remember once Mr. Disraeli commented upon the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) sitting in solemn silence, but it was positive loquacity compared to the behaviour of the Government Bench now, for in that instance only one man remained silent, but here—my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Longford has carefully counted them—and there is that silence multiplied by 10. Surely we may have an opinion expressed whether they mean to support, oppose, or remain neutral?


I am not authorized to speak on behalf of the Government, nor am I able to speak as to the intention of the Government; but it does appear to me—and in this I am expressing my individual opinion—that, under the circumstances in which we find ourselves, my hon. Friend (Sir James Corry) would do well to accept the Motion that Progress should be reported. It is not a Government measure; and there is no one here entitled to speak of the intentions of the Government. I do not know what course the hon. Baronet intends to take, but I hope he will accept the Motion.

MR. MACARTNEY (Antrim, S.)

After what has fallen from several hon. Members on this side, I would appeal to the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Sexton) to withdraw his Motion. For myself I desire to see every municipal borough in Ireland included in the Bill. I do not think we ought to restrict it to any particular class. It does not appear, however, there is any hope of getting the Bill through in its entirety; and I would appeal to hon. Gentlemen who desire this extension to acquiesce in this limitation, and I am sure they will be well supported when they propose to extend it to all other Corporations in Ireland.


The extension is in the Bill now.


I quite understand that; but the Motion for Progress stands in the way.


I have no objection to the principle of the Bill as it stands; but we have Notice of a great number of Amendments, important in character, and requiring that careful consideration which, at this late hour, I do not think they can receive. I think, under the circumstances, it would be well to report Progress.

Question put, and agreed to.

Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.

House adjourned at Three o'clock.