HC Deb 20 May 1887 vol 315 cc805-15

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

COMMITTEE. [Progress 19th May.]

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 1 (Short title).

Amendment proposed, in page 1, lines 5 and 6, leave out "Municipal Corporations (Ireland) Act Amendment," and insert "Municipal Corporation of Belfast."—(Sir James Corry.)

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."

MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)

After what happened to-day it would be of no use to oppose the Amendment. After the declaration made on behalf of the Government, there is no choice between having a Bill confined to Belfast or no Bill at all. That being so, I do not think I am entitled, as a Belfast Member, to do anything to prejudice this reform. I shall, therefore, not oppose the Amendment.

Question put, and negatived.

Words inserted.

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 2 (Commencement).


I beg to move that Clause 2 be omitted. I am greatly astonished that the hon. Baronet (Sir James Corry) who is in charge of the Bill has not moved the Amendment himself. The clause provides that the Bill shall commence to take effect on the 31st of December, 1887. Now, after the passing of the last Amendment the Bill has become special, and the Bill is urgent. The Bill is special because it now applies to Belfast alone. The Corporation of Belfast is a Corporation which is composed of one class with one creed. The Bill is urgent because another measure will soon pass into law which will place on the town a very heavy burden. Supposing this Bill passes into law this Session, and this clause remains unaltered, the new franchise will not come into play until next year. It will not be until November, 1888, that the ratepayers under the new franchise will be entitled to elect one-third of the Council. They will not be able to elect a second third until 1889, and it will not be until 1890 that the whole of the present Members may have been displaced. I appeal, then, to the Committee not to give with one hand and to take away with the other. In an ordinary measure it is provided that the Act shall come into force as soon as it passes into law. I think the Committee will see that this clause ought to come out, and that the Bill ought to come into force in the present year.

Amendment proposed, to leave out Clause 2.—(Mr. Sexton.)

Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."


The object of this clause was to give time for the registration, which will be very heavy, and to bring the Bill into operation next year. I have, however, no objection whatever to the measure coming into operation as soon as it is passed.

Question put, and negatived.

Clause struck out.

Clause 3 (Amendment of Section 30 of the Municipal Corporations Act).

On the Motion of Sir JAMES CORRY, Amendments made, in page 1, line 13, by leaving out "as required," and inserting "(hereinafter called the principal Act) as requires;" page 1, lines 16 and 17, by leaving out "several boroughs named in Schedule A to said Act annexed," and inserting "municipal borough of Belfast."

MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)

I beg to move the Amendment which stands in my name—In page 1, line 20, to leave out "last day of August," and insert ''twentieth day of July." The qualifying date in respect of the municipal franchise will, under this Bill, be the last day of August. The qualifying date in respect of the Parliamentary franchise is the 20th of July. I suppose that under this Bill there will be about 25,000 voters; and I have received many letters from Belfast respecting the trouble and expense which will be entailed by having two registrations of voters. Unless my Amendment is agreed to, there will have to be two attendances before the Revising Barrister—once in respect of the Parliamentary, and once in respect of the municipal franchise. I am acting in obedience to representations which have been made to me; and I say that for the two qualifications only one attendance ought to be necessary.

Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 20, to leave out "last day of August," and insert "twentieth day of July."—(Mr. Sexton.)

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."


This is an Amendment which I really cannot accept. The Bill was drawn on the same lines as the English Corporations Act; and the 31st of August is the date there given. It would be most inconvenient that the revision should take place on the day mentioned by the hon. Member, because the Parliamentary franchise and the municipal franchise do not correspond at all. It would be perfectly impossible for the two revisions to go on at the same time. We have a new element introduced into the municipal franchise by this Bill, because it allows women to vote. On the other hand, there is no lodger franchise, and no service franchise, in regard to the municipal elections. It would, therefore, be most inconvenient for the two registrations to go on at the same time. I, therefore, cannot accept the Amendment.

MR. CHANCE (Kilkenny, S.)

May I point out to my hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) that he has hardly put forward the full strength of his case, because the hon. Baronet who is in charge of the Bill has introduced into the section a technical expression, which is only to be found in Parliamentary Franchise Acts. The effect of adopting the 20th of July as the date at which the revision should take place would be that the authorities who make up the list of municipal voters would have all the advantage of being able to utilize the list already made up for the Parliamentary franchise. It would reduce their work 60 per cent, and no practical disadvantage would re-suit. On the other hand, the very greatest expense and trouble will be caused by adopting a provision which is absolutely unknown in any franchise. The matter is merely one of utility and advantage.


The remarks made by the hon. Baronet the Member for Mid Armagh (Sir James Corry) were entirely irrelevant. He says that some of the voters under the municipal franchise will be women. I really do not see what difference that makes. The qualifications of Parliamentary and municipal voters will be practically identical in Belfast, and one inspection will do for both. The two Courts would sit at the same time, and one Inspector will be able to attend both. I may say that my proposal is much more to the advantage of the hon. Baronet's friends than it is to our advantage, because we shall always be a small minority in Belfast. As far as I see at present I must press the Amendment.

Question put.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 76; Noes 81: Majority 5.—(Div. List, No. 167.)

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 4 (Provisions of Act not to affect existing burgess roll) agreed to.

Clause 5 (Repeal of provisions of Municipal Corporations (Ireland) Act as to election of aldermen).


I beg to move the omission of this clause. The hon. Baronet will confess that, while this might be permissible to a general Bill, it has no place in a Bill applicable solely to the borough of Belfast. This clause pro- poses to remove the election of aldermen from the burgesses and hand it over to the Council, and this is the only borough which is selected for the change. I am aware that it is the law in England; but we do not like it, and do not want it. The effect of its operation would be to elect aldermen all of the same class, as it gives the election of 10 aldermen every year into the hands of the 30 Councillors. I hope the hon. Baronet will consent to withdraw the clause.

Amendment proposed, to leave out Clause 5.—(Mr. Sexton.)

Question proposed, "That the Clause proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."

MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)

I hope the hon. Baronet will not press this clause. It seems to rue that it is a disfranchising, not an enfranchising clause. In Dublin and other boroughs the burgesses elect the aldermen, and I do not see why we should depart from the ordinary rule.


I have taken the clause, precisely as it stands, from the English Act, as I think, in a matter of this kind, we should assimilate the law of the two countries. I must insist upon the clause being retained.


I trust the clause will not be retained, for it is introducing an absolutely new principle into the municipal franchise in Ireland. By the Bill you are proposing to give an extension of the municipal franchise, but by this clause you are taking it away; so that you are giving an extension of the franchise with the one hand and taking it away with the other. There is no reason whatever why this Bill should be used as a vehicle to import a new disfranchisement. I know that the English law has it; but it is a distinct disadvantage as compared with the Irish law. Originally this Bill was intended to apply to the whole of Ireland, and if we import into this the English law it will result in this—that when afterwards the Act is extended to the whole of Ireland this will be quoted as a precedent why we should apply it to the whole of Ireland. This is no Party matter. We desire to give to the Orange people of Belfast the government of their own town as far as municipal franchise is concerned, and we will be no party to imposing upon these people a new and special disability never yet known to the law of Ireland.

MR. EWART (Belfast, N.)

As a Bill dealing with the local government of Ireland will be introduced next year, I think it would be a pity to impose, in the meantime, a charge of this sort upon one borough.

MR. F. S. POWELL (Wigan)

I only wish to make one remark upon this and the three following clauses. I have, in connection with a Committee upstairs, recently studied the Municipal Corporations Act, 1882, and can trace but small relationship with the sections of that Act and these clauses proposed to be introduced into this Bill. I think these are not clauses fit to be introduced into an Act of Parliament. They are skeleton clauses, and on that ground alone, if on no other, I should object to them.


I could not accept the Motion without consulting my friends; and I beg 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."—(Sir James Corry.)

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

I was not in the House, unfortunately, when this Bill went into Committee, otherwise I should have objected; but I now give the hon. Baronet warning that, having this lucky chance of getting his Bill, if he reports Progress to-night this is the last opportunity he will get.


I hope the Committee will not allow the Motion to succeed. A large number of Members have stayed here at great inconvenience to do justice even to a small portion of Ireland, and I trust their efforts will not be frustrated.


I hope the hon. Member for Mid Armagh will not press the Motion. Undoubtedly the clause ought not to be introduced into a Bill of this kind.


I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Question put, andnegatived.

Clause struck out.

Clauses 6, 7, and 8 struck out.

New Clause (Application of Act), "The Act shall apply only to the bo- rough of Belfast,"—(Sir James Corry.)—brought up, and read the first time.

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


In consequence of what occurred this afternoon I am obliged to take a Division against this clause, restricting the application of the Act to the borough of Belfast.


I am compelled to oppose the adoption of this new clause.

Question put.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 114; Noes 20: Majority 91.—(Div. List, No. 168.)

Clause added to the Bill.


I beg to move the insertion of a new clause, which is really consequential upon Clause 2. By Clause 2 the Bill will come into active operation immediately; and, therefore, the new franchise could be applied to the Register for the present year, instead of being delayed until the 8th of December, after the elections have been closed. The proposal I lay before the Committee is this. Having increased the number of burgesses from 5,000 to 25,000, you have no right to say that the 20,000 shall be loft without the exercise of the voting power until November of next year; you have a right to admit them immediately to the exercise of this power, and more especially as there is a necessity of entering into contracts with respect to the main drainage scheme. Unless this clause is adopted the present Corporation, elected by a small body of persons, will, in the meantime, have entered into the contracts. I quote the Dublin Bill of 1849 as a precedent for the course I have taken. In the year 1849 the municipal franchise was extended to Dublin, and the House of Commons of that day, taking a common-sense view of the matter, allowed the ratepayers the exercise of the powers immediately the Bill was passed, where by there was a full election. I ask that that precedent shall be now followed.

New Clause—

(First Election of New Council.)

"At the date of the ordinary annual municipal elections for the borough of Belfast, occurring next after the passing of this Act, every seat in the Municipal Council of Belfast shall become vacant, as if the period of occupancy prescribed by Law had expired, and there shall be on the said date a new election for any seat in the said Council,"—(Mr. Sexton.)

brought up, and read the first time.

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


I must oppose the introduction of this clause into the Bill, as its adoption, in my opinion, would be likely to be very serious indeed. I think it would be much better that a number of the members of the old Corporation should remain for some time as members, certainly until the drainage scheme is properly carried out. I think it would be most unfortunate were this clause to be adopted, and I must strongly oppose it.

MR. ILLINGWORTH (Bradford, W.)

I think the remarks of the hon. Baronet are the strongest condemnation of the contention of the opponents of the proposal—namely, that if the electors had this power they would not have confidence in the old Corporation. Well, Sir, if it be that the Belfast Corporation is about to proceed to an enormous contract, saddling the town of Belfast with £500,000, I am quite sure the proposal of the hon. Member for West Belfast is the one the Committee would follow. It would be contrary to all precedent that there should be any unnecessary delay in allowing the electorate to come into the exercise of their new powers at once.

MR. DE COBAIN (Belfast, E.)

It appears to me not to accept this proposal would place the Corporation of Belfast in a very awkward position. Two-thirds of the Corporation would thus represent about 6,000 rate papers, and the remaining one-third would represent a very largely increased constituency of, say, 40,000 ratepayers, as women householders under this Bill have votes. By the hon. Baronet's contention the two-thirds, representing 6,000 people, would have double the voting power and control of those who represented an electorate of 40,000 voters or upwards. I think that would be entirely unprecedented. I certainly hope the hon. Baronet the Member for Mid Armagh will see his way to accept this clause. It seems to mo that it would only be just and fair that the new electorate that is constituted should be brought into play at once, so that the new Corporation may represent the opinion of the entire town.


I am very strongly opposed indeed to this clause, as I think to have an election next November for an entire new Town Council would lead to a deal of disturbance and confusion and that in the present state of Belfast it would be highly undesirable. If this clause is adopted I think very many of the old Corporation would seize the opportunity of retiring from the duties, and I think the Council would be very much injured in consequence. It appears to me a very unwise thing to do. Politically speaking, it would not make any difference; but it would create a great deal of inconvenience locally.


It will be in the recollection of the Committee that upon two occasions or more the proceedings in Committee upon the Belfast Main Drainage Bill have been postponed expressly on account that no money should be spent upon that scheme until the people of Belfast had an effective control over their local affairs. After these decisions, the Committee of the House would stultify itself if it decided that while the Main Drainage Bill is passed, and a large amount of money spent at once, the people of Belfast shall have no control over their affairs for two years. Either this clause must be inserted, or all action under the Drainage Bill must be suspended for two years, for we have positively decided that not a penny shall be spent until the representatives of the extended franchise have control.


There is one question I should like to ask the hon. Member for West Belfast. What is the effect of this clause? Is it intended to have an entirely new Council at the expiration of the annual term, and is it intended that part of the new Council shall go out after a short interval, another after a longer term, and the third after a still longer interval, or, again, that all the members always go out at the time?


The original Municipal Act is adhered to with the new franchise. The machinery of the old Act will be applied; the retirement of the Council will be as before—simply the extension of the franchise will apply at once.

Motion agreed to.

Clause added to the Bill.


As a consequence of the adoption of this Amendment, we have to provide for a person to preside at these elections. The old Act provides that an alderman or councillor shall preside; but, every seat being declared vacant, there would be no person qualified to preside. I will therefore move that the person who, under the present law, would fill the post, shall do so under the altered circumstances.

Amendment proposed, To add to the now Clause—"Provided always that the person who by law would be bound to preside at the next election if this Act were not passed shall nevertheless preside at such election."—(Mr. Chance.)

Amendment agreed to.


The next clause standing in the name of the hon. Member for West Belfast—in reference to the suspension of the main drainage scheme—cannot, as I have already mentioned, be moved in Committee.


I beg to say that I shall move it on the consideration of Report.

Bill reported.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be taken into Consideration, as amended, on Monday 6th June."—(Sir James Corry.)


I would ask the hon. Baronet to fix that stage for Monday next. The Main Drainage Bill, as he is aware, is hung up until June 20, to allow this Bill to pass; and with the Whitsuntide holidays intervening, there is not much time to allow of the Bill being sent up to "another place." I must move that the Report be taken on Monday next.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the words "6th June," and add the word "next."—(Mr. Sexton.)

Question proposed, "That the words '6th June' stand part of the Question."


June 6 will be more convenient. I have made arrangements that will not allow me to be in my place on Monday.


We will move it then.


I must move for Monday next; the question is urgent.


I think I can undertake to say the Bill will not be delayed in the House of Lords.

Question put, and negatived.

Question, "That the word 'next' be there added," put, and agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put.

Bill, as amended, to be taken into Consideration upon Monday next.