HC Deb 17 February 1892 vol 1 cc613-49

Order for Second Reading read.

(12.35.) MR. CONDON (Tipperary, E.)

In rising to move that this Bill be now read a second time I have the greatest confidence in the result, believing that the justice of the claim embodied in the measure will commend itself to fair-minded men in all parts of the House. The main provisions of the Bill are simply an embodiment of the principle that the municipal franchise in Ireland should be assimilated to the same franchise as England. We have noticed in the Speech from the Throne that Her Majesty's Government intend to propose legislation For applying to Ireland the general principles affecting Local Government which have already been adopted in Great Britain. And the proposition we now submit is that the principle shall be applied to the municipal franchise. This Bill has been discussed in this House over and over again, and the consensus of opinion, even in times not quite so advanced as the present, has been in favour of the principle of the Bill. I assume that there are a great many Members in the House acquainted with the extraordinary position Ireland occupies in relation to this matter as compared with England; but, still, I think it my duty to lay before the House a few points of dissimilarity in the position of our country. There are four classes of municipal towns in Ireland, each class having a different franchise. There are the municipal corporations of Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Londonderry, and so on, eleven in number, and in these towns the municipal franchise is of the most prohibitive character. It is a £10 qualification, and any hon. Member who is acquainted with Ireland will acknowledge that a £10 rating qualification means almost disfranchisement to the population generally. In the second class are the towns incorporated under the Act 9 Geo. IV.; in the third class are the towns under the Towns Improvement Act of 1854, and these are 77 in number; and, lastly, there are the townships with special Acts, such as Blackrock and others. In the first group we have mostly a £10 rating qualification. Dublin and Belfast are exceptions, and Belfast occupies a distinct position, owing to the Act which was passed in recent years at the instance of my hon. Friend (Mr. Sexton). Though Dublin has nominally a household franchise, yet it is in reality a rating qualification of £8; that is to say, a man must have been resident for three years, or be rated at £8. I need not go into particulars of other towns in the third and fourth classes. In the third class a £4 rating qualifies for the franchise, which means in some of the small towns practical disqualification for the bulk of the inhabitants. Our contention, I say, is, as we put it forward in this Bill, that Ireland and England should be on the same footing as regards the municipal franchise. We hope and believe that the House will agree with us in this contention, that the House will affirm the principle, that the people of Ireland are as much entitled to the use of the municipal franchise as are the people of England, and I say they are as qualified to exercise the right of citizens in every respect as are the people of England. I have some figures here, which I have taken from the latest statistics I have at hand, which will show the House with what gross unfairness we are treated in this matter. There are 11 corporate towns in Ireland governed by Mayors, Aldermen, and Councillors, and I will quote figures in relation to six of these. I could quote the figures for all if it were necessary to do so, but I do not think it is desirable. Those I give will be sufficient to illustrate my contention. I begin with Dublin, and I will show you the population, the numbers on the burgess roll and on the Parliamentary register, because I have a word or two to say upon the difference between the Parliamentary and the municipal franchise; and I will afterwards institute a comparison between these towns and towns of an equal population in England, to show what an anomaly exists. I take the City of Dublin, the metropolis of Ireland. It has a population of 249,000, a burgess roll of 6,644, and a Parliamentary register of 30,000. Well, it appears to me, and I feel sure that no Member of the House will contest the proposition, that the affairs of the nation, as discussed in this Imperial Parliament, are not of less importance than the affairs with which a corporation has to deal; and if Parliament in its wisdom admits 30,000 of the population of the City of Dublin to the Parliamentary franchise, then surely, at least, an equal proportion should be permitted to exercise the municipal franchise. Yet here we find that the Parliamentary franchise exceeds by almost five times the municipal franchise. In the City of Cork there is a population of 80,000, and I find on the burgess roll 2,059 names, and the Parliamentary register has 11,500, and my remark applies equally to Cork. The City of Limerick is a more notable instance in the same direction. With a population of 38,000, Limerick has a burgess roll of 457, whereas on the Parliamentary register there are 4,827 of the inhabitants. Well, of course, if there were nothing else to attract the attention of hon. Members as something demanding remedy, Limerick would be sufficient upon which to base my claim for reform. Waterford has a population of 22,000, burgess roll 679, and the Parliamentary franchise in the hands of 4,000. Londonderry, with a population of 29,000, has a burgess roll of 799, and a Parliamentary register of 4,200. From the extraordinary differences in the figures relating to the two franchises, as by Law established, it must strike hon. Members as being of such a character as to demand immediate attention at our hands. I stated a while ago that in the Speech from the Throne the Government have signified their intention of meeting out equal justice in the matter of local government to England, Scotland, and Ireland; and now I invite attention to figures as they affect towns in England of about the same size as the Irish towns I have mentioned, to show the discrepancy, the injustice, of the franchise law under which our people suffer almost municipal disfranchisement. First, I take, as comparable with Dublin in population, the English town of Bristol. Dublin has a population of 249,000, Bristol has somewhat less in population, 206,000. But while Bristol has this smaller population, it has a burgess roll of 27,600, as against 6,644 in Dublin. Certainly an extraordinary difference between the two. Then Cork has its 80,000 inhabitants, and 2,059 on its burgess roll, and I take the town of Cardiff as about the same size, a population of 82,000, that is 2,000 more than Cork. Let Cardiff have all the benefit it is entitled to from this extra population. Still, that does not explain why Cardiff should have a burgess roll of 11,400 and Cork only 2,059. Surely, revision is wanted here. Now, Limerick affords a most remarkable example of the extraordinary condition of municipal affairs as between England and Ireland. The City of Limerick, as I have said, has a population of 38,000, and I take the English town of Cambridge for the sake of comparison. Cambridge has a population of 35,363, or, in round figures, 3,000 less than Limerick. But while the burgess roll in Limerick numbers 457, Cambridge, with its population 3,000 less, has 5,400 burgesses on its roll. Well, then, I say, if we are to have anything approaching equal treatment in these matters, Limerick demands attention. Waterford has 22,000 inhabitants and 679 on its burgess roll; and I find in England, Canterbury, with almost the same population—within a few hundreds—has a burgess roll of 3,090. Londonderry comes next, population 29,000, burgess roll 799; and the town in England I compare with it is Colchester, with upwards of 28,000 inhabitants and a burgess roll of 4,500. In the town of Clonmel there is a population of 9,300, and its burgess roll numbers 275, while the English town of Harrogate has a population of 9,400, but 1,700 burgesses. These figures will show the House how unfairly Ireland is treated in its municipal representation in an equal number of English and Irish towns. While in Ireland, out of a population of 427,000, there are something less than 11,000 of the inhabitants on the burgess rolls, in England, with a population of nearly 383,000, there are 53,700 on the burgess rolls. In other words, the proportion of burgesses to population in England is seven times greater than is the case in Ireland. The Parliamentary franchise in Ireland is a household franchise, and through that franchise householders have the power to elect representatives of Irish interests in this Imperial Parliament. But do you consider the national affairs to be of secondary importance to parochial and municipal matters — that you require a higher qualification for the municipal franchise? Such a contention would not bear discussion. Then, do you think that the hundreds of thousands who enjoy the Parliamentary franchise are more intelligent or better able to exercise that franchise than the educated intelligent artizans and traders in Irish towns, who are debarred from exercising any influence in the management of the towns where they have the greatest interest? Speaking from personal knowledge and experience among the artizan and trading classes in Ireland, I claim to say that there is no class of the community better qualified to exercise any franchise. There is gross inconsistency and injustice in this display of mistrust towards these masses of the Irish people. While they are entitled to vote for a Member of this House, and in a great many cases for Poor Law Guardians, they are debarred by Statute from voting for a member of a Town Council, and in regard to matters in which they have the most direct interest. The Bill I confidently recommend to the House is to remedy this anomalous state of affairs. Municipal boroughs in Ireland since Reformation days, and especially in latter times since they became popularised and nationalised, have given proof of their capacity to govern themselves efficiently, intelligently, and economically. We ask for nothing under this Bill beyond what the English people enjoy, and we appeal to the fair minds of English Members to give to the people of Ireland those rights—we do not call them privileges—those rights to which they are honestly entitled. I hope that if any opposition to the Bill should arise it will not emanate from any Irish Member, no matter what shade of politics he may represent here. Even should there be some opposition I feel that the justice of our claim must enlist the sympathy of the House generally on behalf of the Bill, the Second Reading of which I have now the honour to move.

(12.57.) MR. MAURICE HEALY (Cork)

In rising to second the Motion for Second Reading, I think I may congratulate the new Chief Secretary for Ireland on the opportunity offered him to inaugurate his term of office by effecting this useful and long desired reform. I will not insult him or his Party by assuming for a moment that he, or they, have any intention to defend the monstrous state of things disclosed by the facts put forward in the speech of my hon. Friend, in a Session such as this, when we are promised a measure of County Government, framed, broadly speaking, on equal lines with the measure which has become law in England in the last few years. It would be absurd, indeed to begin a Session of this kind with a defence from the Government Bench of such a state of things as my hon. Friend has described in his speech. The law relating to Municipal Corporations in Ireland is simply an anachronism which it is impossible to defend, and which I do not believe there will be any attempt to defend. We all know that when Sir Robert Peel consented to reform Municipal Corporations in Ireland, he, instead of meting out to that country the same beneficial treatment which had a few years before been applied to English Corporations, accompanied and clogged the benefit conveyed to Ireland in a number of ways. One of these was the abolition of a large number of Municipal Corporations, which had up to that time existed; and, secondly, there was the setting up as between England and Ireland of an invidious distinction; for whereas in England every occupier of rated premises had a municipal vote conferred upon him, there was set up in Ireland a £10 franchise, which has existed from that day to this. The law in Ireland in this matter remains exactly what it was 50 years ago; while for England Statute after Statute has been passed, broadening the franchise and extending popular rights and privileges, the law for Ireland remains substantively as it did when Her Majesty came to the Throne in 1837. Now, my hon. Friend has told the House that while in England every householder occupying rated premises exercises the municipal franchise, in Ireland that is so far from being the case that a £10 qualification is required. That naked fact does not disclose all the enormity of this absurd state of things, for let me call attention to the fact that in Ireland there is a great difference between rate and valuation. I occupy in the City of Cork rated premises valued at £10, the rent of which is £50. Now, I should like to hear any English Member in any part of the House getting up and attempting to defend a state of things of that kind as applied to England. Well, in the result, we have this extraordinary variation my hon. Friend has described as between the municipal and Parliamentary franchise, and as between the municipal franchise in England and in Ireland, and we have the extraordinary anomaly set up that, while for Parliamentary purposes you have a franchise existing in Ireland which one of the loyal minority described at the time it was extended as the "mud hovel franchise"—which confers a vote on the occupier of a mud hovel in Ireland—that while a man may be entitled to give a vote on questions of Imperial importance, on a question of peace or war, of Home Rule—on any question concerning the nation at large; when it comes to a question of the repair of the streets of the town in which he dwells, or the enforcement of sanitary regulations or other matters of municipal government, then Parliament shuts him out from any exercise of the franchise. Not only so, but other anomalies follow. My hon. Friend has mentioned that this state of things was so gross that when Parliament came to deal with the municipal affairs of Belfast the House felt itself compelled, before passing a scheme involving an expenditure of many hundreds of thousands of pounds in that city, to make provision to enable burgesses to express their opinion by an extension of the franchise. So you have arrived at this state of things, that while in the City of Dublin you have some 6,000 burgesses on the roll, in Belfast you have 30,000. So you have the anomaly as between the Parliamentary and municipal franchise, as between the municipal franchise in England and Ireland, and even among the 11 municipal boroughs of Ireland to which my hon. Friend referred, you have three different municipal franchises in existence. Who can defend a state of things of this description? I am sure the Government will not attempt it. Then, again, in Ireland we are in the unfortunate position that, not merely are we crippled by the Municipal Law, but also by the Act in reference to the collection of rates; and that which is conferred by the one Act is taken away by the other. For Dublin, Parliament passed a special Act conferring the right to vote on every householder, distinguishing the inhabitants of Dublin from the rest of the community. But then the Act for the collection of rates stepped in; the effect of which was to impose a qualification of £8 valuation. So, in Dublin, after Parliament had passed an Act conferring a vote on every householder, the effect of the Collection of Rates Act was to restrict that franchise to premises valued at £8. In a similar way, in small towns, the effect of restricting the franchise to £4 valuation is to shut out from the municipal vote that very class which I venture to say has the highest title to it and the most need for it. Who are the people most affected by the government of the small towns in Ireland? Who are most in need of sanitary matters being looked after? Those who occupy insanitary houses—the poor, the indigent, the needy. But these are of the very class Parliament has deliberately shut out from the exercise of the municipal franchise. I am sure, if we succeed in inducing the House to amend the law as regards the larger towns, the Government will show no disposition to limit the reform, but will extend it to the 79 towns governed under the Act of 1854. I assume that no one will attempt to defend the anomaly whereby in one small town the qualification for a vote is a £5 valuation, and in another small town five miles off a £4 qualification obtains. This matter of the municipal franchise has very largely attracted the attention of the working classes during the last two or three years, and anyone who has read the newspapers will know that it is a matter in which the artizans in the larger towns, such as Dublin and Cork, take the greatest interest. Naturally they think it is a very strange state of things that after Parliament has passed a great reform, and every householder has a vote for Parliamentary purposes conferred upon him, he should find himself excluded from a share in the municipal franchise. I assume the Government will announce an intention of putting an end to such an absurd state of things. But, if that should not be the case, then I am afraid we shall be obliged to draw some very strange conclusions as to the proposals the right hon. Gentleman intends to make when to-morrow he rises to announce reforms in the system of County Government in Ireland. But I will not insult the right hon. Gentleman by assuming he has any disposition to defend the present state of things. This Bill is intended to equalize the law between England and Ireland in the matter of the municipal franchise, and, after the repeated declarations in this House as to the necessity for governing Ireland by equal laws, I assume that the opportunity has now come for giving effect to those good intentions, and that a Second Reading will now be given to this Bill. If this Bill is required in the present day, it is simply because Parliament has not been able to attend to Irish matters. To-day, for about the twentieth time, the Irish Members introduce this measure; and I hope now, at the eleventh hour, the House will be induced to accept a Bill which will place the Irish people on a scale of equality with the people of England.

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

(1.15.) MR. DUNBAR BARTON (Armagh, Mid)

The hon. Member who introduced this Bill said that no Member of the House could find fault with it. He referred to certain statistics and published figures, which I would remind the House had reference only to the municipal corporations; but he did not introduce any statistics with reference to the far larger, and by far the most far-reaching part of the Bill, to which I take strong exception. Sir, I take exception to this Bill on three grounds. In the first place, it is a misleading Bill. Its title would mislead anybody acquainted with Ireland or with Irish municipal law. I did not rely upon it, though it did mislead me. When I heard that a Municipal Franchise Bill was to be introduced in this House, I at once assumed it referred only to the municipal corporations, and I will show hon. Members opposite that I was right in assuming that. I have followed, although I was not in Parliament at the time, the Bills hon. Gentlemen opposite introduced in 1889 and 1890. I have these Bills with me, and I must say that they are very different indeed from this Bill; and one question which I should like to ask some of the hon. Gentlemen who will follow me in this debate is, Why is it that in these two Bills, which I have read most carefully, they studiously confine them to the municipal corporations, and that this year, in this Bill, the volume has grown, so that instead of a Bill dealing with 11 municipal corporations this Bill deals with 116 towns and townships? Why is it, Sir, that without any notice whatever this Bill has been extended in this way, so that, having been twice introduced in a form which made it applicable only to eleven municipal corporations, it is now to be extended to these 116 towns and townships? The Irish people have no knowledge of that change. The statistics of the hon. Gentleman opposite have reference to the municipal corporations; and in so far as those correspond with the municipal corporations in England under the Act of 1882, hon. Members opposite have much to urge, with justice and plausibility, with reference to this Bill. When they speak of assimilating the Law of England to the Law of Ireland, they want to assimilate it to the Municipal Corporations Act of 1882. But, Sir, if that is so, they should confine their Bill to the limits of the Act of 1882. I am bound to say I am not offering any narrow opposition to this Bill, and I am certainly not going to say anything disrespectful of my fellow-countrymen, but I do say that this is a Bill which, under a disguise, proposes to effect a change of which Ireland knows nothing. Now, what are the towns which will be affected? There are 12 towns and townships under a special Act of their own, and I should like to ask the representatives of North and South Dublin and of the St. Stephen's Green Division whether they are aware what the Bill proposes, and whether they know that the Bill contains provisions which were not in the Bills of the last two years I have mentioned? Within the last three weeks I saw a discussion that took place in the Blackrock township with reference to a Sewage Bill, and the question of the franchise being altered was then discussed, but no mention was made, or hint given, during that discussion by the people of that county that they were aware that a Bill was in preparation or about to be introduced to alter the municipal franchise. These towns and townships will be surprised to hear to-morrow that this House has been occupied to-day in discussing this matter, upon a Bill which seeks to effect so large a change. When the House was asked the other night to confirm a Resolution that it was incapable of governing Ireland, I think we are entitled to put forward this Bill as a specimen of what Irish Members would do in an Irish Parliament. I want to know whether these towns and townships are aware that a Bill of this kind has been introduced into this House? In Ireland the franchise varies. In Blackrock the franchise is £8, in Bray £7, in Dalkey £4, in Kingstown £4. Under the Act of 1828 there are eight towns, including Armagh, which I have the honour of representing, with a £5 franchise. Hon. Members seem to think that towns like Armagh should have their constitution altered without the Town Council or anybody else being consulted. There are 84 towns under the Act of 1854 which have a £4 rating franchise that will be entirely altered by this Bill. I ask, have any of these towns been consulted? If not, then I submit that my constituents should not have their franchise altered without full notice and adequate opportunity of discussion. Now, I must refer for one moment to the Bill itself. I observe that the term of residence proposed by this Bill is six months. In England the period fixed by the Municipal Corporations Act of 1882 is 12 months.


No; rating 12, residence 6.


I do not think that six months is the period of the English Act. However, passing from that, I find a remarkable change in this Bill as compared with the Bills which were introduced in 1889 and 1890. I find that the rates to be discharged in order to qualify a voter are only the rates paid by the Governing Body — the borough rate.

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

That is in accordance with Irish law.


The English law requires that the poor rate, as well as the borough rates, should be paid, in order to enable a householder to qualify, and in the Bills of 1889 and 1890 a provision of that kind was found. The change this year is so remarkable as to justify me in asking hon. Gentlemen opposite for some explanation. Then, Sir, there is an extraordinary omission to which I would like to call attention, namely, the absence of any proviso relating to the disqualification of voters, which is in the Belfast Act and the English Act. Do hon. Members mean to repeal this disqualification and to enfranchise those who are in receipt of poor relief? Now, Sir, the last two sections of the Bill are very remarkable sections, because, unlike anything I have ever seen in an Act of Parliament, the Bill proposes that the duty of making and issuing claims, revising the lists, hearing the claims, and so forth, should be left to the Local Government Board, to which they also give the wide discretion of enumerating the Acts, which they thought, judicially or otherwise, were repealed by this Act. The ordinary course is to set forth carefully in a Schedule any Acts which are altered, so that hon. Members may know which are repealed and which are not. Here the Local Government Board are left to do the work. I am glad that hon. Members have such confidence in the Local Government Board. It is certainly most suggestive, now that we are about to be asked to establish County Government in Ireland. When it is urged that there is necessity in Ireland as in England and Scotland for a Central Authority to control the County Boards, it will not lie in the mouths of hon. Gentlemen opposite to deny that the Irish Local Government Board can be safely entrusted with such controlling power, because they have given to the Local Government Board in their own Bill powers of modifying and repealing Acts of Parliament far wider than anything that Irish Members sitting on this side of the House would suggest with reference to Local Bodies in Ireland. I do not blame hon. Members much for this Bill, because we have it on the authority of a Dublin newspaper, the Evening Press, that this is a hurriedly-drafted Bill, introduced for the purpose of catching this Wednesday. Nor, Sir, do I think hon. Members can blame me as the Representative of a constituency, three or four towns of which will be affected, if I take objection to their privileges and their constitution being altered by a Bill drawn in this hasty way. It is disrespectful to the Municipal Authorities. I will ask, Do hon. Gentlemen seriously invite the House to endorse this Bill, which their own newspaper says has been hastily drafted, and which they cannot say adequately deals with the subject? If they want to assimilate the law of England and Ireland, let them bring in a Municipal Reform Bill, as was done in the Municipal Corporation Act of 1882—one of those great codifying Acts which have placed the various branches of the English law upon a clear and simple basis. I do not believe that the other Corporations desire to have their franchise reduced. In the City of Armagh, my own constituency, those who are rated under £5 have no votes; but they pay no rates, and when it was proposed to make a reduction, there was no desire for it. But whether they want it or not, whether it is right in principle or not, I venture to submit that nothing should be done which would bind this House to any interference with the franchise of the towns and counties of Ireland outside the Municipal Corporations Act.

*(1.44.) MR. CLANCY (Dublin Co., N.)

We have heard many objections to the municipal franchise in Ireland; but I think the weakest reasons ever offered in opposition to this Bill have just been advanced by the hon. and learned Member for Mid Armagh. He has not been very long in this House; but I must congratulate him upon having, within the space of one week, acquired all the stock of cut-and-dried objections to Irish reform. This measure has always been, in the opinion of Gentlemen opposite, too small or too big, and the hon. and learned Gentleman considers it too small.


My observations had reference to the eleven municipal corporations. With reference to them, I know of no ground of opposition to the Bill, though I would rather like to have them dealt with as a whole. With regard to other towns, I strenuously object to this Bill.


Then it appears I was wrong, and that the hon. and learned Gentleman's objection is that the Bill is too big. But I am afraid that if it were smaller his objection would still remain, for somehow or other the Conservative Party have always found objections to this measure, and we have never got the slightest assistance from the "loyal minority" of Ireland in striving to reform the franchise. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that this was a misleading Bill; but I do not understand the meaning of that objection, for municipal franchise certainly refers to the franchise in towns and townships, and I am surprised that such an objection should have been made. This reform is required in towns and townships, even more than in the cities of Ireland. The facts put forward by the Mover of the Bill are undeniable and overwhelming; but if my hon. Friend had gone into the case of the towns and townships, he would have shown even a stronger case for reform. The hon. Member referred to Blackrock, in the County of Dublin, and no more striking example of the need of reform in townships could be given, for our case may be based on that instance alone. The hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to think there had not been any agitation on this matter in Ireland. What was the meaning of that objection? Does he want agitation? Is no reform to be obtained for Ireland without a Land League, a National League, or a House League, or some other league which may perhaps throw society into disorder? If he does want agitation on this subject he may have it, and I warn him that it will probably extend to the northern parts of Ireland, for the Orangemen will clamour for this Bill as much as the Nationalists in the rest of the country. I do not need to refer at any great length to what I may call the pettifogging objections made by the hon. and learned Gentleman to the provisions of the Bill, for most of them have no relation whatever to its principle, and may be properly discussed in Committee. He asked about the repeal of certain Statutes, and I invite him when we go into Committee to propose an Amendment specifying those Statutes, for I am sure if he does so there is no Member on this side who will not support him. He objected that we left out some of the disqualifications existing in regard to the Parliamentary franchise, but this Bill does not deal with the Parliamentary Franchise.


I beg pardon, but I refer to the municipal franchise, and to the Poor Law qualification.


This municipal franchise does not depend upon the Poor Law rating, and unless we dragged into the Bill that which has nothing to do with the subject, we cannot act upon his suggestion. I should have supposed from his speech the other night that the hon. Gentleman was something of a Tory Democrat, and I advise him to remember that there will be more Tory Democrats coming into this House in future, and that proposals for the restriction of the Parliamentary or municipal franchise will be just as hotly resented by those representatives of the working men of Great Britain as by any Liberal politician. I am glad we have not had from the hon. Gentleman any reflection upon his fellow-countrymen, and I hope his example will be followed in that respect by other Members from the North of Ireland, for it has been too much a habit with them in recent years to attack their fellow-countrymen. It has been said that provision should be made for men of position administering the local affairs of Ireland; but I do not believe in their administration. We have had experience of them for the last 90 years, and we find they have landed the country, on every opportunity, in a mess. Thus, at the present day, where we have men of position entrusted with the local affairs of Ireland, we find that there it is, and there only, that scandals in the administration of the law occur. I need not refer to the Grand Juries, because they are doomed, and I believe their execution will be begun to-morrow night. But with regard to Boards of Guardians, it is notorious that the ex officio members habitually neglect their duty, and never attend except when there is a job on. It would be false policy even for a Conservative Govern- ment any longer to maintain the present restriction of the franchise; for wherever it has been extended, the result has been unmixed good to the community. There is not much interest taken now in some parts of Ireland in municipal affairs, because the mass of the people are shut out from the vote; but wherever in England the municipal franchise has been extended there has been a vast increase in the interest taken in the work of the municipalities. Before the extension of the suffrage, very little was thought of the interests of the working man in this House. We had no Agricultural Holdings Bill in those days. We had no Bills for improving the condition of the labouring classes in England, Scotland, or Ireland; but since the extension of the suffrage we are bristling all over with energy for improving the condition of the labouring classes. It is an instructive object lesson in the matter of Home Rule for Ireland to look at the present condition of the empty Benches opposite. The hon. Member who introduced the Bill adduced overwhelming arguments in its favour; but if a Division should be taken Members will come in on the other side to vote who never heard that speech, and a vote given in ignorance is an outrage on justice. This reform has been refused by the House of Commons for 50 or 60 years, and if the case of Home Rule depended on that fact alone, it would be complete.

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

The Mover of the Bill expressed the hope that no opposition would come from any Irish Member. Perhaps that was too much to hope for, but if a Division be taken to-day very few Irish Members will vote against the Bill. It has been completely proved to-day that the Irish law so far as the franchise is concerned is in a state of hopeless confusion; that the Irish franchise is not the same as that in England; and that it differs in different towns. I should like to ask, Sir, why the Irish householder should not have the same rights as the English householder; he has precisely the same rights as far as the election of a Member of Parliament is concerned. Why is the Irish householder to be held capable of voting for a Member of Parliament, and yet held to be incapable of voting for a Town Councillor? Why should the Belfast artizan have municipal rights which are denied to the artizan of Cork? There is another strong ground in favour of this Bill, namely, the sanitary state of many of the small towns in Ireland. There is no authority whatever, and if there were no other ground for this Bill I should support the Second Reading. I think the objections made by the hon. Member for Mid Armagh were lawyer's objections, and did not go to the principle of the Bill. The view that the townships which would be affected by the Bill are not seized of its contents is not an objection, inasmuch as the townships are represented here, and the Members representing them are seized of knowledge of what is within the four corners of the Bill. I think my hon. Friend had the idea that advertisements of the Bill should have been inserted in the papers as in the case of a Private Bill. But who is there to object if even that had been done? Is my hon. Friend the Member for South Belfast going to object?


No, certainly not.


I thought not. It may be thought that the privileged corporations are going to object, but I do not think the House ought to reject the Bill on that ground. I do not think that on the eve of a Local Government Bill, which is to follow English lines and have the widest possible franchise, that the claims of a privileged few should be set up to the injury of the smaller townships. I support the Second Reading of the Bill.

*(2.35.) MR. MURPHY (Dublin, St. Patrick's)

After the speech of the Mover of the Bill, I think, Sir, the wonder is that the present state of things has existed so long. The fact that a somewhat similar Bill has been introduced year after year shows the difficulty of getting legislation admittedly desirable for Ireland passed through this House. The hon. Member for Mid Armagh said he should oppose the Bill, and I must congratulate him on the ingenuity with which he put the very bad case he made out. He propounded the extraordinary constitutional theory that the House was not competent to deal with the question without the consent of those who already possessed the franchise. I agree with the hon. Member for South Tyrone that the question is of more pressing importance to the small towns than to the municipal boroughs, as their sanitary and other arrangements are far behind the times, and that state of things is not likely to be altered till those who have to live in unsanitary houses are directly represented on the Boards of Town Commissioners. In one town of 3,000 inhabitants in the North of Ireland 119 burgesses return nine Commissioners. In another of the same size nine Commissioners are elected by 75 burgesses. In the City of Limerick there are 457 burgesses out of a population of 39,000. They are divided into wards, one of which has 27 electors and returns four Councillors and an Alderman, or one representative to 4½ burgesses; another ward has 30, and the largest has only 83. The Bill really does not meet with any very great opposition in Ireland. Nor do I think that it will make any considerable change in the representation in a political sense. In the town of Belfast the number of electors have increased from 6,000, or thereabouts, before the passing of the Municipal Franchise Act to 33,000, and yet the effect of that extension of the franchise has been that it has not made any change whatever in the state of political parties in the Corporation of Belfast. In Dublin the representation is something like 43 Nationalists to 7 Conservatives, and I think that the extension of the franchise would not make any great difference in Dublin. At the present moment there are in Dublin only two or three hundred electors in each ward, and a man can practically get himself elected by requisition before the election takes place at all; and I think if the franchise were extended a great many people of a higher status would come forward and show interest in the matter than they do at the present time. The immediate cause of the claim for the extension of the franchise in Belfast was a proposal for the expenditure of a large sum of money on main drainage; and the hon. Member for West Belfast showed the unreasonableness of such an enormous expenditure by those who represented such a small number of the ratepayers, and this was the immediate cause of the extension of the Belfast franchise. In the City of Dublin we are upon the eve of an expenditure of the same character, and the same arguments may be used in regard to it. As regards the townships that are adjoining the City of Dublin, such as where I reside, Rathmines and other places, I can say that the majority of the inhabitants are without representation under the present franchises. The system prevails in Rathmines and elsewhere to co-opt members when a vacancy occurs in their body. That, I believe, is a state of things which should not exist. If a vacancy takes place in the representation of the municipality the ratepayers have a right to return the man whom they think should fill that vacancy, and I say that it is contrary to all our modern ideas to hold that the remaining members should have the power to co-opt those members. I do not think that I can add anything more to what has been said by speakers who have preceded me, and I can only conclude with expressing the hope that the House will see its way to allow this Bill to pass its Second Reading.

(2.45.) MR. MACARTNEY (Antrim, S.)

I think the hon. Member who has just sat down has taken everybody by surprise; he has launched forth into a discussion in which he has dealt with the constitution of Grand Juries and the Boards of Guardians, and he has said that the Bill now before the House is only a continuation of the Bill of last year. Now this is the first time that the Bill has been introduced into this House, and I can only account for the confusion of the hon. Gentleman's mind by the agitated condition of the atmosphere in Upper O'Connel Street for the past few months. I am not making that as an accusation against the Bill; nor am I inclined to ask anyone to oppose it because hon. Members say the Bill is wide in its scope. So far as, the operations of the Bill are concerned, and of its powers in dealing with matters that were included in former measures brought forward by hon. Members opposite, my attitude in this House must be governed by what I stated in the discussion which took place on the Belfast Drainage Bill. I then said that all the Bills brought forward which would cover the principles contained in that measure would have my support, and therefore I have no objection to the Second Reading of this Bill. But coming to the question of townships, the hon. Member has made a considerable point about it. I do not altogether agree with the views he has placed before the House. I do not believe, and I speak of that portion of the country which I know best, that there is any considerable desire expressed upon the part of the people that there should be any alteration in the condition of things under which the governing bodies of Town Commissioners are elected; and I find that a Committee of the House, before which every one of these points was represented, came to the unanimous Report that— "Although the desirability of the reduction of the Municipal Franchise has been frequently suggested to your Committee, the subject does not appear to have attracted a great amount of public interest, while no desire has been shown by smaller towns," and so on. I think I may say that no desire has been shown in the County of Antrim for this alteration. I have not heard of any such desire, nor has it been put forward for the purpose of securing votes at municipal elections that any change should be made in the manner in which members are elected. It appears to me that as the Government are pledged to introduce a measure dealing with Local Government in Ireland, the case of these smaller towns could more properly be dealt with in that measure, and I should like, so far as these Town Commissioners are concerned, to reserve my liberty of action. Having made my position clear, I do not intend, however, to ask the House to give any active opposition to the Bill. But I think the hon. Member, in referring to the case of small towns, has fallen into one or two mistakes which I should like to correct. Answering the able speech of my hon. and learned Friend on this side of the House, it was stated that this measure had been always opposed by the Conservative Party in this House.


And so it was.


This is the first occasion on which the measure has been introduced.

MR. T. M. HEALY: Last year.


It stood for second reading—Bill 27—last year.


I have not looked the matter carefully up, and I suppose the Bill escaped my notice. At all events, it is not correct to say that the Conservative Members for Ireland or that the Conservative Body opposed any similar Bill in the past to the extent that the hon. Member has led the House to believe. The hon. Member also states that no interest is taken in municipal affairs in these small towns. I do not know what may be the case in the other three provinces of Ireland, but I know that it is not so in regard to Ulster. In Ulster the greatest possible interest is taken.


What I stated was that if no interest was taken it was due to a restricted franchise.


I say that the greatest possible interest is taken in those municipal elections in Ulster, and so far as the particular argument goes it can have no force in regard to Ulster in supporting a proposal for a reduction of the franchise. With regard to the drafting of the Bill, I do not wish to criticise it; but I cannot say very much of the Bill as it is drawn, and undoubtedly if it ever gets into Committee it will have to be seriously considered, and a great many important alterations will have to be made in it. I shall reserve to myself the right to consider those matters, and on this, condition I am prepared to assent to the Second Reading.

*(2.57.) MR. T. D. SULLIVAN (College Green, Dublin)

The hon. and learned Member for Mid Armagh has said in the course of his speech that the people of Ireland would have some reason to complain when they read to-morrow about this Bill. He seemed to think that there was something in it that would alarm them, and spoke as if we were making a raid upon certain classes of the people of Ireland; making an invasion of some precious constitution. He said the people would have reason to complain of the surprise practised upon them, just as if some of their constitutional rights were being invaded by the provisions of the Bill. One would have thought from that speech that, instead of proposing to extend the municipal franchise, to extend municipal rights, in Ireland, we were proposing to rob the people of Ireland of some municipal privilege. I do not think the Irish people, or any section of the Irish people, will entertain that view of the case. The terrible proposition contained in the Bill brought forward as "a surprise," and supported by the wicked Nationalist Members, simply amounts to this—that, as regards their municipal rights and privileges, the people of Ireland should be put upon the same level as the English people. I am surprised at the statements made by the hon. and learned Gentleman in regard to this question, statements which were manifestly absurd. I want to know from the hon. and learned Member, or from any hon. Member of this House, what benefit can come from keeping those restrictions upon the municipal franchise in Ireland? We have had a great extension of the Parliamentary franchise with great benefit to the people of this country; what harm can come from extending the municipal franchise in Ireland? I cannot for a moment suppose that it would be an offence to any persons in Ireland to say that they should be put upon the same level as the English people in the matter of the municipal franchise. Speaking as one of the Representatives of the City of Dublin, I wish to bear emphatic testimony to the fact that there is a very great desire among the working people of Dublin for this reform; and there is a very great desire for the extension of the municipal franchise in that city. Last year the Trades Council, which is authorised to speak for the working classes of the City of Dublin, passed a resolution asking the Irish Representatives in this House to do their utmost to bring about such a reform as is now before the House. I hold the resolution passed by that body in my hand— "Resolved, that the Dublin Trades' Council thinks that the time has arrived when the question of assimilating the Parliamentary and Municipal Franchise should be taken up by Parliament, and we hereby ask our Parliamentary representatives to take means whereby such a reform shall be speedily accomplished." The masses of the people have an interest in the prosperity of the towns and cities in which they live, and I think it is important and very desirable they these people should have a voice in the election of municipal representatives and in the government of their cities. I feel perfectly certain that the same views are shared throughout the length and breadth of Ireland. I shall not go into statistics upon the subject, they have already been quoted in the course of this discussion; they are, I think, astonishing, and I believe the English people will be amazed, when they come to read of it to-morrow, at the difference that exists between the two countries, notwithstanding the suggestion that is so often made that we in Ireland are in enjoyment of the same rights and privileges as the English people. We fail to see any reason why any Party should desire the perpetuation of this state of things. When people have to pay rates, and when they are so deeply interested in such matters as sanitation, the condition of the public ways, and questions of that kind, it is most desirable that they should be allowed to have a voice in the election of their municipal representatives. I believe there is almost unanimity of opinion upon this subject in Ireland, and I rose to testify to this fact, that the people of the City of Dublin are keenly alive to the necessity of such reform as is referred to in this Bill, and in proof of that I refer again to the testimony I have quoted coming from a representative body of Dublin tradesmen upon the subject. These men are an intelligent portion of the people of Dublin, their opinions are bound to carry weight, and it is my duty to give expression to their views in this House.

(3.7.) MR. A. BLANE (Armagh, S.)

Perhaps this House will be astonished to know that in the City of Armagh we live under a Municipal Act which is no less than 63 years old. Supposing hon. Members in this House were returned to this House upon a franchise 63 years old, I can well conceive that a very considerable portion of the eloquence of this House would be lost to us. This Act was passed in the year 1829, and since that day till now one-half of the inhabitants of that city have not had the slightest interest in that corporation. We sometimes hear from hon. Members upon the opposite Benches of what we would do if we had power; during all those 63 years there has rarely sat a single Liberal on that Town Council; there has rarely sat a single Catholic, and not a single Nationalist. The Parliamentary franchise is just one-fifth of the municipal franchise. It takes five times the qualification to return gentlemen to the Municipal Boards that it does to qualify a voter for a Member of this House. He may thus take part in the government of the Empire, but of a sewerage rate he has not the slightest thing to say. The speech made by the hon. Member for Mid Armagh awas very nearly on a par with the speech made in 1829 in support of the system by which the Beresfords nominated 12 burgesses annually, and the 12 burgesses nominated the Member for the borough. It was a sort of mutual admiration society, and I assure this House that it scarcely differs to this day. There was not a single Catholic in that municipality represented at the Town Council, no Nationalist, and in a town of 10,000 population the Catholics have a slight majority, not of any one denomination of Protestants put together, but of the whole combined. What was the scandal that we saw in that corporation? A meeting was held purporting to take the nominations of the Town Commissioners. That was in the year 1878, the very year in which this House passed the 41 & 42 Vict., which is called the Public Health Act. A number of citizens were anxious that certain reforms should be made in the sanitary arrangements and inspector-ships. They had the nominations made; they went before one of the chief Orangemen of the county, the Chairman of the Town Commissioners, to hand in the nomination papers. The nomination papers were handed in by me. He refused them. In the case of 21 Town Commissionerships we only put forward one third—though we were entitled to one half—and the seven nominations were sent back to us. I thought it was a case worth trying, and I brought this Chairman of the Conservative Association at Armagh, the head of the Orange Party, before the Superior Courts in Dublin. I got some wooden-headed barristers that brought him before the Courts in Dublin, and, poor as the wooden-headed barristers were, they effected my purpose. The Judges declared that the nominations were accurate, that they were in due time, and they should not have been refused; but still I was prevented having my costs, and I had to pay the costs of my own wooden-headed barristers as well as I could. I merely mention that for the purpose of showing how hard it is for poor men, and humble men in the ranks of the people, to go into the Superior Courts and fight the Chairman of the Masonic Institution of the County Armagh, and Chairman of the Town Commissioners, who is also Chairman of the Conservative Association. It is exceedingly difficult. The Judges declared that these nominations should have been taken, and directed a new election to take place; but, in the meantime, the Chairman of the Town Commissioners had exceeded his term of office; he had gone out according to law. He held a new election slightly different from the other. We again contested only one-third of the seats. Did this man accept our nominations? Not a bit of it. The same Chairman of the Town Commissioners whose term had expired, and who was practically defunct, held a new election. He defied us again. I brought this Chairman of the Town Commissioners to the Superior Courts in Dublin with the assistance of some of my fellowcitizens—I was not rich enough myself to bear the expense. Well, we contested this matter in Dublin. We found that our wooden-headed barristers had brought us into the wrong Court; instead of bringing us into the Queen's Bench on a quo warranto, or something of that kind, they brought us into the Common Pleas Division, and the Common Pleas Division threw us out with costs, plus the costs of the enemy. I mention this thing to show the House how difficult it is for any poor working man in the North of Ireland—in that Ulster they speak about—men who are not ornaments of society, but working fellows, useful men, not ashamed of their work—they are absolutely deprived, these men in the North of Ireland, from having a solitary thing to say with reference to the Corporation. Now, let me say this. The day is not far distant when you will have to abolish qualifications in respect to the election of Members of this House—the day is not far distant, I believe, when we shall have manhood suffrage. It is irresistible, though we do not go so far in this Bill, and we are entitled to merely mention it for the purpose of showing that we are not very extravagant in our demands. The speeches that have been made, and that can be made, against a measure such as this, have been trotted out one hundred times against every reform—either municipal, poorlaw, or Parliamentary—that has been brought before this House; they are old and venerable visages. They had done duty when the Act of 1829 was passing through this House. In the days of Peel the same speeches were made. I hold that people who pay rates indirectly, pay rates in the worst possible way. I say that they pay cent. per cent. more than they pay directly; and if you place any rate on any men, that rate will filter down till it reaches the workers; because, no matter how many ornaments of society they have, these men never pay any rates themselves. They take the rate collector in the right hand and the working-men in the left. They are ornaments of society, but not useful members. If you take the City of Armagh, there are three principal landlords in that City. One is the Church Temporalities Commission; another, I think, is Lord Tramoran; and the third is Lord Dartford. The property of the City of Armagh is built upon the lands of these men. They do not contribute one penny towards municipal rate, poors rate, county cess, or any other rate. All the taxation falls upon what are called the occupiers, the immediate lessors. They do not pay anything to the municipal rates. Why should not they? All the municipal rate is expended on sanitary appliances, enhancing the letting value of the landlord's land; and if any of these unfortunate occupiers or lessors leave one town and go to another—if they leave Armagh to go to Belfast—they do not take the sanitary appliances with them; it is left behind to enhance the ground landlord's value, and if it enhance the ground landlord's value, what is the reason the ground landlord is not taxed? It is because property, as it is called, is organised and is able to defend itself against the poor; and in this House the number of advocates of the poor, the number of advocates for strict justice, are certainly not very numerous. But I think, at all events, the Members for Ireland have done their duty with reference to this Bill, and with reference to other Bills coming before the House. We have done our humble best to improve as far as we can the condition of affairs in our country; and it appears to me that if we had the management of the affairs of our own country in our own hands we would not be now dealing with a Municipal Act 63 years old. This, after all, is not a Party question, because the cleansing of sewers is of as much interest to an Orangeman as it is to us. When fever raged in Armagh it carried off as many respectable Protestants as it did Catholics. I think we might fairly claim that the Attorney General for Ireland, who is a great power in this House, and who is also I think a countryman of my own—a native I think of the outskirts of the City of Armagh—I think that we might forcibly seize him for the purposes of this Bill. I think this is a Bill that he might support without any danger to the Empire. And if he gives us his assistance in this case I can assure him it will please as many of his Conser- vative friends in Ireland as it will our own friends.

(3.27.) COLONEL WARING (Down, N.)

I must compliment the hon. Gentlemen who have just sat down on the extraordinary burst of eloquence to which they have treated us upon the matter before the House. But really I feel some difficulty in understanding whence all this eloquence comes, and why it is expended upon a matter which, as the hon. Member for the City of Dublin said, appears to command the general approval of Irish Representatives on both sides of the House. I look on the Notice Paper, and I see that there is another Irish Bill standing next for Second Reading, namely, the Labourers' (Ireland) Bill. Possibly hon. Members opposite have a difficulty in proceeding with the next Bill on the Paper in consequence of divisions in their ranks, and are anxious to concentrate all their eloquence upon this Bill. I have no objection to the principle of the Bill at present under discussion, or the one that follows it, and therefore I do not propose to unduly prolong the present Debate by any remarks of mine. But though I shall vote for the Second Reading of this Bill, I shall reserve to myself a very considerable power indeed of criticising it in Committee. I think that when this Bill comes up for consideration in Committee hon. Members will find that it would have been better if they had expended their time and trouble in constructing a new Bill. I think there is a good deal in what has been said, that this Bill does come as a matter of surprise to the smaller townships in Ireland. Now, it concerns very largely, perhaps, a number of small towns in my constituency, and I have not had an opportunity of ascertaining whether or not they desire this reform, which appears to me to be a reasonable one. But I do think it is greatly to be desired that I should have an opportunity of ascertaining what their views on the matter are, and that we should enter into this business with full information as to their views regarding the provisions of the Bill affecting the different localities to which it is to be applied. For the reasons I have stated I have decided to vote for the Second Reading of this Bill, but I certainly do not intend to allow it to pass without a very considerable amount of correction in Committee.

*(3.30.) THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. H. MADDEN, Dublin University)

I have listened with very great interest to this Debate, and I think it has been conducted throughout in a thoroughly business-like manner, and with the utmost good humour on both sides of the House, and a number of most important facts in connection with this question, submitted by one side or the other, have been brought under our consideration. Now, before I formally state the attitude of the Government in regard to this Bill I would recall to the recollection of the House the history of this measure. It has been, or, rather, a Bill bearing the same title as the present Bill was introduced, if not earlier, in the year 1889-90. My recollection is not clear upon that point. Possibly it may have been the year before that, but that Bill dealt, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid Armagh has pointed out, exclusively with the Municipal Corporations of the 11 cities. Now I do not in the least complain that hon. Members opposite have introduced in the present Session a different Bill. That would be no ground for complaint, but I must say that the argument of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid Armagh is deserving of consideration at the hands of this House. I do not understand him to quarrel with the title of the Bill, but, as I understand the very clear statement of my hon. and learned Friend, he points out that there have been already Municipal Corporations Bills brought before this House—that this Bill was brought out yesterday or the day before as a Municipal Corporations Bill, and the natural inference of course was that as it was introduced by the same Members it was the same Bill—but that on examination it was discovered that this Bill under the same title is not the same Bill, but a very different Bill, as it deals with very different subject-matters from the Bill of 1889–90.


Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman allow me to make one remark? The hon. and learned Gentleman said to-day that the population of Ireland were taken by surprise because this was not a Bill of the same sort as was previously introduced. Now, the Bill, No. 29, of last Session, was presented to the House on the 26th November, 1890, under the title "Municipal Franchise (Ireland) Act Amendment Bill, 1891," and Section 17 was identical with the section in this Bill.


The hon. Member will not understand me as quarrelling with the way in which the Bills have been introduced, but I must point out that that was the only Municipal Corporations Bill that has been introduced up to the present date.


No, no; this very Bill.


I think that Bill was entitled "The Franchise Bill," and it never having come to a Second Reading, having been withdrawn before the Second Reading—


We gave the Bill the title, "The Municipal Franchise Amendment Act Bill." The clerks at the Table, according to the usage of the House, put the short title "Franchise (Ireland) Bill" upon the back of the Bill. We are not responsible for that.


No. I am not quarrelling with that; but when a Bill having the same title as the former Bills is introduced, it is natural to suppose that it deals with the same subject-matter. The attitude taken up by the Government and on this side of the House has been that, in regard to the Bill dealing with these 11 cities, which occupy plainly a distinctive position—a different position from the towns and townships which this Bill proposes to deal with—the question would be one to be dealt with by the Local Government Bill about to be introduced. Now, as the hon. Member is aware, that Bill is to be shortly introduced, and I do not intend to anticipate any of the disclosures of to-morrow. But I want to make it perfectly clear to hon. Gentlemen opposite that the attitude so taken up by the Government was taken up not in regard to the new Bill, or the Bill of last year, but in regard to the Bill introduced in 1889–90, dealing with the 11 cities. The question then arises, What position should the Government take up with regard to this Bill? Now, I am not prepared, I am not authorised, to make any statement whatever in regard to the portions of this Bill which were not in the Bill introduced in 1889–90. That is a matter which will come before the House in due course. It is a matter deserving of the greatest consideration. But the question at once arises, Does the fact that these clauses have been introduced into this Bill—is that any reason why the Government should oppose the Second Reading of a Bill which contains provisions that are in addition to the Bill of 1889–90? It appears to the Government that is not a sufficient reason for opposing the Second Reading of this Bill. It appears to the Government that the proper course to take is to state to the House that, so far as the scope of what I shall call the original Bill is concerned, we adhere to the opinion already expressed that these cities and large towns occupy a, distinctive position as regards local government, and that the time has now arrived for dealing with this question; that probably the House will find that the more convenient and the best course would be to deal with that question in connection with the Bill to be brought before the House tomorrow, but that this consideration does not afford sufficient reason for opposing the Second Reading of this Bill. Therefore, with these observations as to the views of the Government, I am prepared to give my assent to the Second Reading of this Bill without going into any discussion of its provisions in detail at present. I rose to make the attitude of the Government as regards this Bill perfectly clear to the House, so that there might be no misunderstanding with regard to the matter.

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

I hope the citizens of this country will take note of the declaration of the Government. There is a canal in Dublin called the Royal Canal; it separates Dublin from Ra[...]mines. According to the declaration of the Government the citizens on one side of this canal will enjoy a municipal franchise of the same nature as the Parliamentary franchise, but the moment they cross the bridge then they will be under a £4, or £8, or £10 franchise, under the principle laid down by the right hon. Gentleman so clearly. And yet this House of Parliament is anxious to remove every Irish grievance and to place Ireland on a par with England in regard to all contentious questions. Now, Sir, anything more scandalous, or anything that ought to more shock the Tory conscience, I never heard put forward with so much cynicism by a Member of Her Majesty's Government. And, for my part, I rejoice that now, naked and unashamed, on the very eve of the Dissolution of Parliament, the Government have taken up this view; that so far as the citizens of Dublin are concerned, within the Canal they may have British rights, but those outside it may be subjected to Conservative outlawry, because in some mediaeval time in the past there were eleven towns endowed with corporate privileges. And these towns—take, for instance, the town of Clonmel, a small borough in the County of Tipperary: it is to enjoy this privilege; but all the townships around Dublin that have suddenly sprung up into life, and are nearly as much a portion of the City of Dublin as Grafton Street or O'Connell Street itself—though they do not, perhaps, enjoy so much of the distinct civic life of the town—are to be excluded from it. For all practical purposes the view of the Government is this: that all these townships are to be excluded, and are to remain under the old heavy franchise, and those within the city ambit are to have the new. franchise with the assent of the Government. Now, that is a position which I think no English Minister—no Minister in the English Government—has ever taken up before; and I hope the Conservative Party will rejoice in being able to defend the principle of the Canal Bridge. It may be interesting to the House to know that even in [...]rtain portions of Dublin there is not even a canal, so that the di[...]ding line will be the middle of the street. In the case of the North Circular Road, which bounds the city in that direction, for instance, the inhabitants on one side from one window will be looking at the inhabitants on the other under different franchises; and that is the great situation now created by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. You would believe from the tone and demeanour of the Attorney General that we should go down on our knees and thank the Government for the very moderate attitude it has assumed with regard to this Bill. I say the attitude of the Government is an inconclusive and indefensible attitude. While the Orange Party, as represented by the hon. Member for Antrim and the hon. and gallant Member for Down, are unable to attack this Bill in any way, the Attorney General proposes to confine the franchise to these eleven towns. Why, even the hon. Member for South Tyrone is with us on this question. The Member for South Tyrone made a speech in favour of the passing of this Bill as a whole; and now Her Majesty's Government are going to the country on this principle: that so far as these eleven towns are concerned, they may have the franchise, but as regards 200 towns, they shall not. As I have said, I regard this extraordinary decision, which I suppose the First Lord of the Treasury is responsible for, as the most valuable expression of the views of the Conservative Party. No exception as to draughtsmanship has been taken to the Bill. No point is taken exception to except that the eleven towns are fit for the franchise, and all the rest of the community is not. We are, happily, I believe, on the eve of a Dissolution. This Bill is a Bill just the same, practically, in all its effective provisions as the Bill introduced by us so far back as the month of November, 1890. I shall just give the House one example of the working of the proposal of the Government. Within the last two months a dispute has arisen in the town of Maryborough as to whether a man rated at £4 was entitled to the franchise or not. There was no list of voters in existence except that prepared by the Town Clerk. The Town Clerk rejected the man's claim to the vote, and there was no appeal. An Election Petition was presented to settle the question, and considerable expense was incurred. So that, therefore, to contest the question of the right to vote in these 200 towns there is no other legal machinery than a cumbrous and expensive Election Petition. That is the position taken up by the Government. That, in my opinion, is a scandal. The case of Dublin is a pressing one. In some of the townships around Dublin the franchise is £5, and in others it is £6, £8, and £10, and we ask the House to assimilate the franchise there to that which prevails in England.

* SIR J. McKENNA (Monghaan, S.)

I rise, Sir, in order to dissociate myself in toto from the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down. The object of the hon. and learned Gentleman was to discredit any advantage that might accrue to Ireland from a Conservative Government. Personally I am prepared to acknowledge gratefully any benefit tendered to Ireland from whichever Party in the House it may come, and I now thank the Government for acceding to the Second Reading of this Bill, notwithstanding the observations of the hon. and learned Member.

MR. LEAMY (Sligo, S.)

I think, Sir, the House should now come to a vote on the Second Reading of the Bill, seeing there is no opposition to it.

MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)

I fully acknowledge, Sir, the merits of the Bill have been pretty fully discussed, but I wish to draw attention to the fact that throughout this Debate the Ministers responsible for the Queen's Speech have been conspicuous by their absence. Even the right hon. Gentleman who is now responsible for the affairs of Ireland has only been present during a small part of the Debate.


The Chief Secretary for Ireland has been called away quite suddenly. It was his intention to have remained and taken part in the Debate.


I do not think, Sir, that the Chief Secretary should have allowed any duty to take him away from this House during this Debate on the first Irish Bill since the right hon. Gentleman took Office. We are told in the Queen's Speech that the Local Government Bill for Ireland will be framed on the same general principles as in the case of England and Scotland, which means that the occupiers of houses in every city and town will have the right to vote on the question of determining the composition of the local governing body. Where in the Queen's Speech is it suggested that the Government are entitled to make one, law for 11 cities and towns, and another law for 200 towns? It is in the small towns that the reforms are most needed, for there the misconduct. of the Local Government Board is not so liable to observation as in the cities. What is the work of these Local Boards to be but paving, lighting, and sanitation. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland had opposed this Bill, I can assure him that the Motion for the introduction of the Local Government Bill to-morrow would not have passed uncontested. The Irish Members were entitled to say that the Government having declared in the Queen's Speech that the principles of Local Government in England should be extended to Ireland have taken the first opportunity that has arisen to abandon their position.

MR. W. REDMOND (Fermanagh, N.)

I hope, Sir, that there will be no more talk, and that we shall proceed to the Second Reading of the Bill, and then to the Labourers (Ireland) Bill, in which great interest is taken.


I am sorry, Sir, that I was unable to be present to announce the views of the Government, but from what I have heard from the Attorney General for Ireland I do not think it is necessary to detain the House. I will only say one word in answer to the remarks of the hon. Member for West Belfast. He speaks of this Bill as though this were the same Bill as was before the House on several previous occasions. That is not the fact.


The right hon. Gentleman has not been present during this Debate, and does not know that a Bill practically similar to this was read a second time 15 months ago.


The Government is, of course, bound to deal with the question of Local Government in Ireland, and although we do not propose to offer any opposition to the Second Reading of this Bill the Government must not be taken as bound to support the Bill in its present form in its later stages. Hon. Members will have very soon an opportunity of seeing the Irish Local Government Bill of the Government, and of hearing the views of the Government on the question of Local Government for Ireland.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for tomorrow.