§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. DE COBAIN (Belfast, E.)
, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, he regretted to be obliged to occupy the time of the House in referring to the most unsatisfactory and anomalous condition of things produced by the Act of last Session extending the municipal franchise of Belfast. By that Act a portion of the clause of the original Act had been repealed, leaving that part of it still in force which provided for personal rating; the effect of this was to withhold the franchise from all occupiers of premises rated at £4 and under, and only to admit those who occupied premises valued above £4 to the privilege of the franchise. He opposed an arbitrary line being drawn at £4, and the effect of the Bill which he now proposed should be read a second time was to confer the franchise upon all household occupiers. The present polling machinery was very imperfect, and, as an example of that, he might mention that in one of the large wards of Belfast, where there were 7,000 electors, there was only one polling place, which necessitated working men travelling a distance of two miles in order to record their votes. The Bill provided that the same polling accommodation should be given as was found necessary for Parliamentary purposes. The Bill also provided that the Parliamentary and municipal revision should take place at one Court, and that there should be one Court for both, and that the Revising Barristers would have power to deal with both lists together, of course having a separate list of women householders, who, by the recent Act, were entitled to the municipal franchise, separately dealt with. This would result in a considerable saving of public expenditure. As the passing of this Bill was essential to make the one recently dealt with workable, he hoped the House would show its confidence in the working classes of the great constituency he had the honour to represent by accepting its provisions. He 950 begged to move the second reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. De Cobain.)
§ SIR JAMES CORRY (Armagh, Mid)
said, he feared that the hon. Member did not quite understand the difference between the Parliamentary and the municipal franchise. The effect of the Bill of last year was to raise the municipal franchise of Belfast from 6,000 to 26,000, and no objection had been taken to the Bill of last year except by the hon. Member himself. The fact was that the Parliamentary franchise included £10 rated occupiers, while the municipal franchise did not. The Parliamentary franchise included those who occupied part of a dwelling house, while this municipal franchise did not. The municipal franchise required personal rating, which the proposed Bill did not. As the question was settled last year, he thought it was too bad that the House should be asked again so soon to deal with it. He therefore had no alternative but to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words, "upon this day six months."—( Sir James Corry.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. BIGGAR (Cavan, W.)
said, he hoped the House would agree to read the Bill a second time. Both franchises were exceedingly wide, but not identical, with the result that there were, as had been stated, two revisions required for the Parliamentary and the municipal list of voters. That caused very heavy expense not only to the ratepayers as a body, but also very heavy expense to the political Parties who had to watch the registrations. It seemed to him a great anomaly that a man might have a vote for borough purposes, and that the same person might not have a vote for municipal purposes. The Party to which the hon. Gentleman who moved the second reading belonged would, he believed, gain much more than the Nationalist Party if the House passed the Bill; but, notwithstanding that, he thought it very desirable that the franchise should be extended as far as possible. The only 951 objection he had to the Bill was that it only applied to one borough—namely, the Borough of Belfast. He would be much better pleased if the Bill could be extended to the other municipal boroughs in Ireland.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR) (Manchester, E.)
said, the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had defended the Bill, on the grounds that it would be a great convenience to have one list for Parliamentary and municipal elections; but even that object would not be attained by the present Bill, because there would still be a women householders' list required in addition. There would be two lists at any rate. But further, his hon. Friend who moved the second reading (Mr. De Cobain) was aware that in the existing Parliamentary franchise there was what was known as the "service franchise." It was not very clear from the Bill whether the hon. Member intended to include the service franchise in the municipal franchise or not. If he did not, the object which the hon. Gentleman desired to obtain—namely, that of having one list of voters for the two elections—would not be obtained. If the hon. Gentleman did mean to give the service franchise for municipal purposes, he (the Chief Secretary) must point out that they would be introducing into local government a franchise which was wholly divorced from the payment of rates. His right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie) had introduced a Local Government Bill on a very wide basis indeed, but its franchise was a rating franchise, as in his opinion every franchise for local purposes ought to be. His hon. Friend now wished to go further than that, and to introduce a system which he (Mr. Balfour) thought they ought never to accept—one which would hand over to persons who did not contribute directly or indirectly to local expenditure, the management of local affairs. That was a principle which had never yet been sanctioned by the House, and he hoped it never would be, because it would certainly lead to gross extravagance and propably to gross mismanagement. That was not the time, and neither did he wish, to enter upon a lengthy discussion as to the principle which should regulate the franchise in local affairs, but he 952 based his opposition on the opinion of every responsible statesman and of every responsible Party in that House—namely, that contribution to local rates should be a condition to the exercising of the local franchise, and on that ground he concurred with the Motion of his hon. Friend behind him (Sir James Corry). He also agreed with what the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Biggar) had said, that if they were going to alter the municipal franchise they should apply such a measure to the whole of Ireland. The municipal franchise of Belfast was altered last year, and the Bill applied to Belfast only because it was associated with another Bill to deal with a very large question of local expenditure. He was not going to say that that was not a sufficient excuse; but no excuse of the kind now existed. He would impress upon the House the extreme inexpediency of dealing with such a question of local government for Ireland by a Bill that applied to only one town in Ireland, and for that reason as well as for the others he had stated, he hoped his hon. Friend would not think it necessary to press the Bill on the house at that particular juncture.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
said, he quite sympathized with the hon. Member who introduced the Bill; but to give every lodger on the Parliamentary list the right to vote at municipal elections, was a principle he could not accept. If the hon. Member (Mr. De Cobain) had estranged many Members on that side of the House who otherwise sympathized with him, he must only blame himself for the careless drawing of his Bill.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 80; Noes 162: Majority 82.—(Div. List, No. 64.)
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Second Reading put off for six months.