Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [29th February]—
That it be an Instruction to the Committee to insert in the Bill clauses re-arranging the existing division of the City of Belfast into wards, so as to make it possible for all classes of its inhabitants to obtain representation in the Town Council."—(Mr. Sexton.)
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ (3.28.) MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
Again I have to regret the absence of the Minister of the Crown responsible for Irish affairs on the discussion of this Irish question. I appeal to the House to adopt this very simple mode, strictly relevant to the Bill, of redressing a monstrous and undeniable grievance, the nature of which I can state in a very few words. The City of Belfast has, according to the last Census, a population of 273,055, governed by a Corporation consisting of 40 members. In that population is included 70,000 Catholics, who have no representation on the Corporation. It is obvious that, in a city with a population of 273,000 and 40 members of the Corporation, each member of the Corporation represents an average of 6,000 or 7,000, and yet this population of 70,000 Catholics—nearly a fourth of the whole population—is without a single representative among the 40 who control municipal affairs. This Catholic population live for the most part in one quarter of the city, and have a special interest in the paving, lighting, sanitation, and other details of municipal service. It is therefore necessary that they should be represented on the Local Council by men in sympathy with their views and on whom they can rely. Is it not discreditable to this House that a state of affairs should be allowed to continue in Belfast the like of which does not exist in any other city in the United Kingdom? What is the cause of the grievance? Simply this: that the wards of the city were fixed 40 years ago, and they have never been redistributed since. In 1853, when the population of Belfast was 115,000, the town was divided into five wards. Since then Belfast has become a city with 273,000 inhabitants; and yet, though the population has more than doubled, the division into five wards remains, with two Aldermen and six Councillors to each—a state of things to which no parallel can be found elsewhere. Now I am asking for nothing new. A Royal Commission was appointed by a Conservative Government in 1879 to consider this question. The Commission 1589 took evidence on the spot, examined all the details exhaustively, and reported in 1881, eleven years ago. In this Report, the Commissioners recommended that the wards should be redistributed, and that instead of five there should be eight. The Corporation of Belfast, the promoters of this Bill, agreed that the wards should be re-adjusted, and that they should be eight in number, and it deserves to be noticed by the House that two other Municipal bodies, the Belfast Water Board and the Board of Guardians, submitted schemes in which they recommended that the five wards should be subdivided into 15. No one in Belfast then thought five wards sufficient, and yet here we are, in 1892, with the population of the city more than doubled since 1853, and still the division into five wards exists, with the anomalous and discreditable state of things that 70,000 inhabitants are left without a voice in the management of civic affairs. I have two reasons relevant to this Bill why the instruction I propose to give to the Committee should be granted. If I were asking anything irrelevant to the Bill, I should expect to meet with opposition, but I ask nothing beyond the scope of the Bill. The Corporation are asking for new powers of expenditure and control in regard to payments for children in industrial schools. I beg the House to observe that payments by Corporations in Ireland in this respect are optional. If payment were compulsory, I should have not a word to say—our endeavours would be directed to see that the Corporation did not evade the law; but a Corporation has a free choice in such matters as to when they shall pay anything and when they shall not pay anything. It should be further observed that the system of industrial schools in Ireland is denominational, every school being under Catholic or Protestant management, Catholic children being sent to the one class, Protestant to the other. Does any man expect me to admit that on a Corporation consisting of 40 members, on which the large minority of the Catholic population have no representation, due regard is had to the interest of Catholic children in those schools? I do not agree to anything of the kind, 1590 and I tell the promoters of this Bill that unless they will agree that representatives of the minority shall be allowed some voice in the allocation of funds to the maintenance of Catholic children, this Bill will be met at every stage with the most stubborn opposition. In the towns of Dublin, Cork, and Limerick there is a Protestant minority not so large as is the Catholic minority in Belfast—not a fraction of it, and yet in Dublin, Cork, and Limerick the Protestant minority have on the Councils a proportion of representation far greater than their share of the population. I know from my own knowledge that in Dublin this is so, and in Cork and Limerick there is a decent liberality shown towards the minorities, while in Belfast a shameful intolerance excludes and outlaws a fourth of the population. We are not prepared to grant the powers sought in the Bill, unless this instruction is granted and acted upon. The Corporation also ask for a new franchise, and to this point I would beg the special attention of the Chairman of Committees. By Clause 4 of the Bill they ask power substantially to appoint a large majority of the Governors of the Lunatic Asylum. I do not care whether they have a virtual majority or not. Under the present system the proposition is this: that a purely Protestant body asks power to nominate the majority of the Governors of an asylum in which the ratepayers of all creeds are equally interested and concerned; and I who represent the Catholics in Belfast, we who represent the Catholics in Ireland, demand that the large proportion of our contributions towards the maintenance of these institutions should find some representation among the 40 Protestant gentlemen who are to direct the mode in which the asylums shall be conducted. This is a new Franchise Clause, and therefore my Instruction is strictly relevant to the question that the Committee should, in the way I think I have shown, take immediate steps to secure representation for the Catholics of the city on the Governing Body, should do what the Royal Commission recommended eleven years ago should be done, should sub-divide the wards into eight, ten, or fifteen, not allowing a state of things to con- 1591 tinue which gives to each ward a population equal to an ordinary Parliamentary Division. I do not think any gentleman will get up and say that in any other city in the Kingdom in the present state of municipal representation such a state of things exists. What is the policy of the Government displayed in their Local Government Bill? They propose to establish the cumulative vote over the counties in Ireland. And for what purpose? For this and no other purpose to give the Protestant and Conservative minority in the country a voice, a share in the government, of their county or local and fiscal affairs. This I ask you to give in the City of Belfast.
§ MR. SEXTON
I know that in three or four counties the Catholics are in the minority, but is this done for these minorities? Have the minorities in the four Eastern counties asked for it? They have not. Let no one tell me that the benevolence of the Government towards the Catholics of Ireland is of that voluntary character that they rush to the rescue of the Catholics in those four counties where they happen to be in a minority. No; the proposal is in the interest of the Protestant minorities in the 28 other counties. Therefore, the Government propose to establish cumulative voting to give the minority the chance of representation on the County Councils. Further, you propose to give to the Lord Lieutenant power to cut up each county into electoral divisions, so that by the system of cumulative voting the Protestant minorities may be enabled to secure representation. Do the same thing in the City of Belfast. Cut up the city into suitable and equitable divisions such as obtain in every other municipal town in the Kingdom, so that 70,000 of the inhabitants out of 270,000 may elect at least one representative to the Governing Body. Is that an excessive, an unreasonable demand? Can the Government resist it when their own suggestion for local government is cumulative voting and the power of the Lord Lieutenant to mark out electoral divisions, so that an insignificant and infinitesimal mino- 1592 rity may find representation in counties? I shall not trouble the House further, only adding that if the mandatory terms of my instruction are open to objection, and this has been suggested to me, I am willing to conciliate opposition—though there is no conciliating opposition of a certain character in Belfast—I am willing to alter the terms of my Motion declaring that the Committee "have power," so that a certain amount of discretion will be left to the Committee. Five years ago, when I urged an extension of the Municipal Franchise, I was bitterly opposed by the Corporation of Belfast in two Sessions. I was able to bring some leverage to bear then; the Corporation wanted a Private Bill, which the House refused to grant unless the Franchise Reform was granted, and it was granted. After fighting hard in this House for two years against this reform, the Corporation have ever since in Belfast pretended that they initiated the reform, and that I opposed it. I do not doubt, if the House passes this instruction, a similar result will follow, and the Corporation will claim credit for a reform as soon as it is granted, and which now they oppose. I earnestly appeal to every Member of the House to give his vote as the justice of the case requires.
§ *(3.40.) SIR EDWARD HARLAND (Belfast, N.)
I quite hoped on Friday, when at the suggestion of the Chief Secretary the consideration of this Bill was referred to a Hybrid Committee, all points raised might, by the Committee, be fully gone into. I regret that the hon. Member for West Belfast should have introduced the question of religion into this discussion. There is nothing in the Bill touching religious differences, and the introduction of religion into political matters creates a large amount of ill-feeling. Within the four corners of the Bill there is no reference to the re-division of the city into wards, but I may say that so far as the Corporation of Belfast is concerned there is not the slightest objection to the re-arrangement of the wards in number and area, but we maintain that the Bill does not deal with that matter, and if it is a thing to be done then it should be done by another Bill, or by means of the Bill dealing with 1593 the general question of Local Government, in which Clause 30 provides the procedure for dealing with such a question. It is not desirable to trammel this Bill with any such considerations, and a Committee upstairs has not the machinery for redistributing the city wards. For such a purpose a Commission should sit and take evidence on the spot, and consider the whole thing thoroughly, and probably, seeing that Belfast has increased so largely, it might also be necessary to enlarge the boundaries of the city. (Mr. SEXTON: No.) Certainly it would have to be considered. These are serious matters, not serious in the sense that there would be opposition, but requiring very careful consideration, particularly in view of the wishes of the hon. Member that the arrangement should be such as to give his immediate religious friends the opportunity of taking seats on the Council. As to the distribution of seats, what difference can it possibly make to Belfast? Has anyone ever drawn attention to mismanagement of municipal affairs there? I will undertake to say there is not a city in the three Kingdoms where municipal affairs are better managed than they are in Belfast, and no city shows a more healthy and prosperous condition of affairs. Why does the hon. Member seek to introduce into this matter the religious question? Refer to the origin and history of Belfast, and we find that Belfast is not an Irish town—really not an Irish town in the view of Irish towns held by hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite. Trace its origin from the time when it ceased to be a country town, the centre for such industries as are connected with an agricultural district, and you find that the manufactures of various descriptions which were taken up were not established by manufacturers and workmen in Ireland, for they did not exist. The prosperity of Belfast took its rise from the energy and labour of Scotchmen and Englishmen. Three out of every four of the inhabitants of Belfast are of Scotch or English origin, and they are mostly Protestants. It is the jealousy of the Catholic element which seeks to over-ride the Protestant feeling of the city, and just as Belfast has 1594 prospered under Protestant Government, so would it cease to prosper if Catholic methods of Government had predominance. No injustice is inflicted on the Catholic inhabitants; they pursue their industry under precisely the same conditions, so far as Local Government is concerned, as their Protestant neighbours; they have every consideration shown to them, and their children in industrial schools have exactly the same treatment as Protestant children in those schools. The hon. Member is raising an entirely false issue upon this Bill. We do not object to a revision of the city boundaries and wards, but we do submit that this is not the Bill by which this revision should be carried out. Let it be done either by means of the Local Government Bill or through a Special Commission, and do not hamper the Committee upstairs with matters it is scarcely possible they can deal with.
§ (3.47.) SIR JOSEPH McKENNA (Monaghan, S.)
I hope the House has taken note of the objections offered to the Motion of the hon. Member for West Belfast, culminating in the statement that Belfast is not an Irish town. It is not, I think, the view that will generally be taken. Are we to have an imperium in imperio in Belfast? Is Belfast, with its 70,000 Catholic inhabitants, to be outside the principle that is embodied in the government of any other city in the Kingdom? I venture to say the House will never sanction such a theory as that put forward by the hon. Baronet. Have we not in our hands the Government Local Government Bill, in which the principles of Local Government are recognised, however the Bill falls short of our desires? And yet the Corporation of Belfast would take this city out of the provisions of that Bill. The hon. Baronet makes the astounding statement that Belfast is not an Irish town, and never have I heard a statement from a responsible Member of this House more calculated to sow widely abroad the seeds of discord and animosity. Unless some of the hon. Member's friends withdraw this opposition to the Instruction I hope we shall go to a Division, and that the 1595 result will show the appreciation of the House of this attempt to force exceptional legislation for Belfast.
§ (3.50.) MR. JOHNSTON (Belfast, S.)
I support the opposition to the Instruction in the strongest possible manner. The introduction of the religious element into this discussion is due not to the promoters of the Bill, but to the hon. Member for West Belfast himself. The House must have taken note how from time to time, when measures for the promotion of the interests of Belfast have been brought forward, they have been met by persistent and consistent opposition from hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ * MR. JOHNSTON
This arises from jealousy of the progress and prosperity of Belfast, and because Belfast is preeminently and distinctly Protestant. The prosperity of Belfast is largely due to its Protestantism, and though hon. Members may laugh at the statement, it is borne out by such historians as Macaulay, who traces the prosperity of Ulster to Protestantism. In contradistinction to the rest of Ireland, Belfast has increased in prosperity and population, and it is the habit of the hon. Member for West Belfast to claim credit for action on behalf of Belfast in recent years. I do not know that he lays claim to any credit for the increase in population, but he does claim to have assisted towards the prosperity of the city. Belfast, I trust, will continue in a prosperous career. Belfast is distinctly and earnestly a portion of the United Kingdom, strongly opposed to the revolutionary projects of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and determined to remain an integral part of the United Kingdom. The Corporation of Belfast will always encourage liberty and fair play to the Roman Catholics in that city. The hon. Member has told us that there are three or four counties in Ulster where Roman Catholics are in the minority, but he indignantly disclaimed the idea that they claimed to be represented on the Local Government; he made no claim on their behalf.
§ MR. SEXTON
Nothing of the kind. The hon. Member is, as usual, inexact. I said they had not asked the Govern- 1596 ment, and the cumulative vote had not been introduced in their interest, but in the interest of the minorities in the 28 other counties.
§ * MR. JOHNSTON
The hon. Member comes forward as the champion of the minority in Belfast, but he repudiates the action of the Government with regard to minorities in other parts of Ireland. I trust the House will decisively reject the proposal now before us, and that we shall have the support of all Members who desire to see the integrity of the United Kingdom maintained. It is the fashion of hon. Gentlemen opposite to laugh at Protestantism—
§ * MR. JOHNSTON
I trust that the position taken by hon. Members opposite will be carefully regarded by the Protestants of Ulster. I hope the House will decisively reject the proposition before us.
§ (3.57.) MR. JORDAN (Clare, W.)
On Friday the principle of this Bill was affirmed by only a small majority, and now the hon. Baronet (Sir E. Harland) has given away the principle on which opposition was raised to the present proposal, for he says the Belfast Corporation have no objection to the revision of the wards. But still opposition is made, not on the merits of the proposal, but founded on arguments of religion and race. The hon. Baronet, not being an Irishman himself, declares that Belfast is not an Irish town. But he lives in Ireland and he is "making his pile" in Ireland through Irish trade and energy. The hon. Member for South Belfast ascribes the prosperity of Belfast to its Protestantism. I am not one of those he accuses of laughing at Protestantism, and, for myself, I am a Protestant first and a politician afterwards. I claim to be as sound a Protestant as any Representative of Belfast, but I hate injustice, and I say it is a scandal to the Protestantism of Belfast that the Catholic citizens should be unjustly treated. The prosperity of 1597 Belfast has been largely due to exceptional circumstances. It has been partly due to the bounty on the linen industry; it has been partly due to the long prevalence of the Ulster custom in the land tenure of the province, and there are other exceptional circumstances in addition to the undoubted energy of the Protestant population. There is no one prouder of the success and prosperity of Belfast than I am; but I am sorry to say, Mr. Speaker, that the majority of the Belfast people are ungenerous, illiberal, and prejudiced in the highest extreme. Belfast sends to this House Representatives as narrow as itself, and they tell you —"This is the great Belfast we are building." In their narrow self-importance the Protestants of Belfast refuse the least justice to their Catholic fellow-townsmen, though, I ask, what have they to fear? Why, Sir, they have everything to gain by giving this justice. If you in Belfast persist in acting in this illiberal manner you will create a force outside Belfast antagonistic to you. Where is the danger to the Belfast Protestants or their property in showing fair justice to the 70,000 Catholics in the city? Have the Catholics no interests, no property, no liberties to protect? Some of them are extremely wealthy, and are well known to the merchants of London and Liverpool, and yet not one of these men, who have helped to build up the prestige of Belfast, is admitted to the Municipal Council because he is a Catholic. Protestantism ought to be ashamed of itself in this matter. Could any fair representation of these 70,000 Catholics on the Council override the representation of the 200,000 Protestants, or injure their interests in any way? If I thought that Protestant interests, or property, or capital would be jeopardised by asking you to allow Catholic interests to be represented on the Council I would not support the proposition. But I have no fear on the matter. If it be right that the privileges of Catholics should be extended we should throw aside our race prejudices, our religious and political prejudices—be just and fear not, and allow this Instruction to be carried.
§ *(4.10.) MR. T. LEA (Londonderry, S.)
I am very sorry that the Catholics 1598 are not represented on the Council, and I should be glad if they were. But why should Belfast be singled out for special treatment of this sort? If Manchester or Liverpool came before this House to ask for power to deal with their lunatic asylums, would anybody think of tacking on to their Bill a Parliamentary Instruction that they should enlarge their boundaries or change their wards? Belfast is singled out for this hostility because of the jealousy of hon. Members below the Gangway. It is a standing monument to the benefit of the Union, and, therefore, you propose to subject it to special treatment which no great city in England would submit to. Surely the Catholic inhabitants of Belfast vote now; they have equal voting power with the Protestants. I put this point strongly before the House: that Belfast ought not to be singled out for special treatment in this matter, but that the Bill should go before the Select Committee in the usual way.
§ (4.15.) MR. PICTON (Leicester)
The hon. Member for Londonderry referred to Liverpool, and says that there is no reason to suppose that if Liverpool came for a similar measure you would treat it in the same way. The case of Liverpool is remarkably interesting. It is a larger town than Belfast, but the proportion of Catholics and Protestants is about the same, the former being about one-fourth of the inhabitants. Now, Sir, suppose that the ward arrangements were so jerrymandered that the Catholics never had a single representative on the City Council. I am persuaded that the House would not permit any more duties to be thrown upon the Council till some reform was made. This country, Protestant as it is, would be ashamed to have a city like Liverpool so arranged as to carefully exclude from the City Council any representative of so large a proportion of the inhabitants Anything which is wrong in England is wrong in Ireland, and ought to be remedied, and I think this is a very good time to deal with the matter, inasmuch as additional duties are to be thrown on the Council in which the Catholics have a large interest. I would appeal to the sense of fairness of hon. Gentlemen opposite, 1599 and ask them to contrast the position of Belfast in the North of Ireland and Liverpool in Lancashire, and so let the two towns be on something of an equality. I earnestly hope that the Instruction will be carried.
§ (4.18.) MR. FLYNN (Cork, N.)
Hon. Members do not oppose this Instruction on the question of principle, or the merits of the case, and it is evident that if the Instruction were carried, one or two sittings of the Committee would deal with it. Hon. Gentlemen opposite blamed the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) for referring to religious differences, but he is here to represent Belfast, and to look after the interests of the population of that city. We have a Catholic population of 70,000 not represented on the Council, and the Corporation is seeking an extension of powers on two questions in which the Catholics are deeply interested. There is the question of the industrial schools, in connection with which the question of religion may arise from time to time, and if the Council be an exclusively Protestant body the Catholics cannot expect fair-play and justice in the matter. It also applies in a more limited sense to the asylums. We contend that there is a public principle in this Bill, and that the promoters must be content to accept this Instruction, or to have the question treated on its merits publicly. On the Belfast Main Drainage Bill the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) raised the question of the municipal franchise, which was subsequently dealt with in a public manner, and the Public Bodies which were then opposed to his action have since thanked him for the course he took. In the City of Cork, with a municipal population of 80,000, there are seven wards; on the same basis Belfast ought to have 21 wards. If the Instruction be agreed to the Committee would be able to carry it into effect in one or two sittings, as there are already two or three schemes on the subject. The Royal Commission itself recommended the increase of the wards to 15. It is useless for hon. Members to say they are prepared to concede fair-play to the 70,000 Catholics 1600 of Belfast if they oppose a reasonable proposition of this kind. I hope hon. Members will allow the Instruction to pass, and no longer give an exhibition of illiberality and bigotry.
(4.23.) THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Mr. COURTNEY, Cornwall, Bodmin)
The hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) calls attention to the fact that a quarter of the population of that city is Roman Catholic, and that there is not a single Catholic member among the 40 sitting on the Council. I think, Sir, if that be so, it is a very grave circumstance; it is a fact to be condemned; a fact to be remedied, as it shows that in the administration of affairs in Belfast a considerable minority has no share. I do not think it follows that this evil would be best remedied by passing the Instruction proposed by the hon. Member. It appears to me that there are objections on two grounds. In the first place, it would throw on the Committee which had to deal with the Instruction a difficult task, which I do not know that the Committee would be able to discharge, and I doubt very much whether, if they could carry out the Instruction, it would quite answer the aim which the hon. Member has in view. To give this Instruction to the Committee is to impose upon it the difficult task of redistributing the city area into wards, and certainly such a proposition would never be considered, in spite of what has been said by the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Picton), in reference to any English city. We have at the present time the Birmingham Water Bill before the House, and I wonder what would be thought of the proposition to re-consider, say, the Parliamentary representation of the city in connection with that Bill. The hon. Member says there are two important powers entrusted to Belfast by the Bill; so there is a new power given by the Birmingham Bill. The hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Flynn) says that it would be easy for the Committee to carry out the Instruction, because there are three plans to select from. I think if there were only one plan perhaps it might be easy, but with three opposing plans the difficulty of the matter is increased.
§ MR. COURTNEY
Yes. The Commission suggested a plan, but it seems to have been so unfavourably received that the two Local Bodies proposed two other separate plans. All these plans are eleven years old, and the population of Belfast has grown considerably since then. I do not think it can be seriously suggested that this would be a convenient way to settle the question; if it is to be done at all it should be done by a special Bill. The hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) has raised the question of the municipal franchise again and again on other Belfast Private Bills, and I also felt it to be my duty to oppose the principle then. There may be some ground for doing something, but I do not know whether if the city were divided into an additional number of wards the Catholics would get more representation on the Council. We have already had some experience, and it tends to negative the hope that there would be Catholic representation on the Corporation. I will point out to the hon. Member a simple way of securing his object. He can propose a simple clause, when the Bill comes down for report on Third Reading, requiring that in future municipal elections in Belfast the principle of cumulative voting shall be applied. He might then get full representation for the Catholics in a much simpler manner than would be the case under his present proposal.
§ (4.27.) MR. KNOX (Cavan, W.)
I venture to think that in one argument he used the right hon. Gentleman was under a misapprehension as to the facts. He says if an English Bill were introduced, with the same object, the House would not listen to a proposal for a re-arrangement of the wards of an English city as part of the Bill. I agree with him, but why? Because there is a special general provision in the Municipal Corporations Act for the re-distribution of the wards of English cities, under which a Commissioner is sent down by the Home Secretary; he inquires into the circumstances, and divides the city into new wards. In Ireland there is no such provision, and 1602 the only way we can get a re-distribution is to come to this House and insert a provision in a Private Bill. This, therefore, is not an unusual way; as s matter of fact, it is the only way in which we can attempt to do it. The right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means seems to think that if minorities are not to be represented on Hare's, system, they ought not to be represented at all. What the Irish Members want is that it should be done in the same simple and efficacious way such as is adopted in English towns. It would be quite easy to divide Belfast into wards, and there would be no necessity for going into lengthy details in a Bill; it could be done by some impartial persons, such as the Ordnance Survey Commissioners named in the Bill. Let it be borne in mind that in this Bill it is proposed for the first time to give powers intimately connected with religion in Belfast to the Belfast Municipality. I think if you give these new powers you should at the same time provide for the representation of the religious minority.
§ (4.35.) MR. A. BLANE (Armagh, S.)
I know that Armagh and other towns in the North of Ireland are most anxious that their boundaries should be extended. What all the Irish Members are asking for is that this House should deal with Belfast as it deals with Birmingham and Liverpool and other English towns. The Presbyterian Body of Belfast are as much interested in this matter as the Catholics are, for they are almost in the same need of representation, so that this is a question which interests them quite as much as it interests the Roman Catholics. There are many of the divisions in Belfast where a Presbyterian has no chance of being returned to the Municipal Corporation, and the Presbyterian Body are, therefore, most intimately concerned in the question. This question of the representation of minorities is one which requires the serious attention of the House, and particularly as it affects the North of Ireland. I can speak for the City of Armagh, and I say that it is much required. In Belfast not only the Roman Catholic, but the Presbyterian is deprived of representation— 1603 wholly and completely deprived of it, I might say; and we ask the House to remedy this disgraceful condition of affairs. I think the House should listen to the appeal that is being made to it, and that, at least, it should direct that there be some result for all the trouble and all the expense that has been gone to in giving evidence before the Municipal Boundary Commissioners.
§ (4.40.) MR. J. PINKERTON (Galway)
I am compelled to say that this matter should not, in my opinion, be managed simply in accordance with the ideas that are so constantly promulgated in Orange Lodges; nor should it be managed in accordance with the ideas of a Tory Municipality. It is only right that the Government should express their intentions with regard to this matter, which I regard as one of great importance. We in the North of Ireland regard the question as one of vast importance, and we ask the House to interfere in relation to it. Why should not such a division of Belfast into wards be effected as would give the Catholic population at least a fair representation on the Municipal Corporation? Belfast occupies at present quite an exceptional position. The Tories there have, in fact, reduced intolerant practices to an exact science; they have crushed out the Presbyterian Body; they have crushed out the Catholic Body; they have managed to keep the representation to themselves, and not in Great Britain can you find a place in which there is such distinct exclusiveness exercised; no man who is not prepared to bow the knee to the Grand Lama of Toryism has, in fact, a chance of filling any office in Belfast. I hold that the opposition to the measure is fully justified, and that we are fully justified in fighting the matter, having regard to the importance of the question and the number of people who are interested in its solution.
§ (4.45.) SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Derby)
I think the constituencies will have to consider whether it is for the advantage of the House that they should find themselves discussing Irish matters of purely local interest night after night. I think the proceedings to-night form an illustration of the method by which this 1604 House deals with Irish affairs, but under the existing circumstances, the discussion could not be avoided. Still, it will be for the country to consider whether the system ought not to be changed. But the most appropriate course for dealing with a matter of this kind is not by Private Bill or by Resolution. Everybody, I suppose, admits that the present distribution of the wards in Belfast has caused great political and religious injustice in that city. Under the English Municipal Corporations Act there is a machinery for the re-distribution of wards where altered circumstances demand such a change; but in Ireland there is no such power under present conditions. You say that you are willing to extend equal justice to Ireland as to England. Why do you not do it? I say that if this power which exists in England be not extended to Ireland, the Government will be guilty of injustice to Ireland in spite of their protestations. I ask the Government, will they undertake to bring in a Bill for the purpose of dealing with this question; or will they undertake in some way to do what is necessary, so as to give Belfast the same rights and the same measure of justice as has been given to English cities under the Municipal Corporations Act? I do hope that the Government will take this matter in hand, and not leave it in the condition in which it is at present.
(4.53.) THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR, Manchester, E.)
I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman has lost sight of two important matters. We are told that the grievance in Belfast is that the distribution of wards has been so designed that although one-fourth of the population is Catholic still the whole of the Municipal Corporation is Protestant, and that the Roman Catholics cannot get representation upon the Corporation. The House must not run away with the idea, as I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman would have it do, that such a grievance, be that grievance great or small, would be removed if we were to apply to Ireland the same legislation as exists in England. Let it be recollected that under the English Act, when there is a question affecting the distribution of 1605 wards in towns, the Home Secretary has only power to move in the matter when two-thirds of the Town Council petition him to exercise his power. In a case like Belfast, where it is said the Council all take the one view, I ask, what probability is there that a two-thirds majority of the Council would petition the Home Secretary to take action in the matter? The right hon. Gentleman seems to think that the state of things which he describes as connected with Belfast is peculiar to Belfast, and to Belfast only. It is nothing of the kind. I understand that a Bill is shortly to be brought into the House to enable the wards in Liverpool to be redistributed, the difference in the size of the wards being at present immense. But I am informed that the Home Rule Party in Liverpool made such strong resistance to the proposal that two-thirds of the Council should petition the Home Secretary to take action that it was absolutely impossible to set matters right in the manner proposed. The second point which the right hon. Gentleman has overlooked is not less interesting. The right hon. Gentleman appealed to the Government to bring in a Bill dealing with this question. Well, my reply is, that the Government have brought in a Bill to deal with it. If the right hon. Gentleman had only taken pains to read the Bill, which I confess he has spent a good deal of time in denouncing, if he had read through the clause of the Irish Local Government Bill—a Bill which could hardly be mentioned in his presence without moving him to indignation—he would have seen that the Government propose measures by means of which the redistribution of Irish boundaries can be effected more easily than can those of wards in English towns at present. I think the Government is doing more than justice to Ireland by giving her a more complete method of dealing with this difficulty than any method possessed by the Municipal Corporations of England.
§ (4.57.) MR. H. H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
I think when the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury talks of a remedy which will be applied to the grievances of Belfast under the Local Govern- 1606 ment Bill, he refers to a very dim and distant future. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the case of Liverpool. I ask the House to say, if the grievance was felt as strongly in Liverpool as it is in Belfast, and if the Corporation of Liverpool were to come to this House for aid, would not the House take good care to give it? We have now an opportunity of remedying this grievance, a grievance which the right hon. Gentleman does not deny, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman why not therefore act at once? I admit that the way in which it is proposed to apply the remedy is not the best way; but let the Government propose a better plan, and we will accept it.
§ MR. O'KELLY (Roscommon, N.)
I think the speech of the First Lord of the Treasury affords the best justification for the Motion of the hon. Member for West Belfast. If the Government will not introduce a Bill to remove the grievance which is complained of, and will not allow this Instruction to go on the Minutes, because they have already provided a remedy for the grievance in the Irish Local Government Bill—if that Bill ever becomes law, and the probabilities are that it will not become law—in the meantime they get through this Bill increasing the powers of the Belfast Corporation. Therefore, they will increase their powers without removing the grievance which they admit. What I propose is that, if the Government are in earnest, they should postpone this Bill until after the passing of the Local Government Bill, if they are honest. If they are not honest, then I think it is the duty of this House to take such measures as are possible to prevent this Bill going any further.
§ *(5.3.) MR. PATRICK O'BRIEN (Monaghan, N.)
The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury has given Liverpool as an instance of the re-distribution of wards, and has stated that it was only the Home Rulers in Liverpool who were a stumbling-block in the way of the re-distribution of wards in Liverpool. ("Hear, hear") I beg to tell the hon. Member who says "hear, hear!" and the right hon. Gentleman that that is not the case. Many years 1607 before the Home Rule question became a burning question in Liverpool, or had a representation in the Town Council of that city, there were several motions for the re-distribution of the wards of that city, and they were always opposed by the Tory party, who held a monopoly of that city for over 50 years before, and tried so to jerrymander the re-distribution as to continue for 50 years more to be masters. The Liberal party of the city had increased up to the year 1882, and were nearly able to control the city by the election of Mayor; and it was only when the Tory party got alarmed in that way that they then put forward at that particular period a movement for the re-distribution of the city; because they wanted to incorporate with the city the suburbs, the snobocracy of the city, so that they might be able to make up for what they had lost in the central wards of the city, by re-distribution. I feel bound to say, in justice to the citizens of Liverpool that the religious question never entered into this dispute. The people have been generally willing to let the Catholics have a fair representation, although they are one-third of the city. I wish to refer to that part of the speech of the hon. Member for South Belfast where he said that Belfast disapproved of revolutionary projects. Well, it is something new to me to hear that Belfast and the North of Ireland disapproves of revolutionary projects. I thought that Belfast and the North of Ireland were supporters of the pretensions of the Duke of Cumberland to get on the Throne of England when all the rest of Ireland—
§ MR. P. O'BRIEN
Undoubtedly, if history is not altogether a lie, the Orangemen of Ireland did support the pretensions of the Duke of Cumberland to get on the Throne of England. There never was a revolution in Ireland that had not its headquarters and its best supporters in the North of Ireland. I wish also to refer to the speech of the hon. Baronet the Member for North Belfast, which to my mind throws a flood of light on the proceedings of five or six years ago, namely, 1608 the riots of Belfast on that occasion. We heard that out of the works on the Queen's Island, presided over by the hon. Baronet, men were allowed to carry out tons of nuts and bolt-heads in their pockets to fire at the heads of Catholics—(Cries of "Order, order!")
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The question of the Belfast riots has nothing to do with the Bill before the House.
§ * MR. P. O'BRIEN
I beg to withdraw the expression. I do hope the House will support the Motion of the hon. Member for West Belfast, and give the people a fair representation. I think it could be very easily done; and I think the Government should give us some assurance that if it cannot be done in this Bill they will use the powers they have to see that people get fair representation.
§ (5.6.) MR. NEVILLE (Liverpool, Exchange)
As I understand, the Irish Representatives put before the House a grievance, which is fully admitted, with regard to the re-distribution of the wards of Belfast, and the Government have been already appealed to from the Front Opposition Bench as well as by Members below the Gangway, and they have refused to undertake to propose or support any measure of relief for the remedy of this grievance—("No, no!")
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I have distinctly told the House that we have amply dealt with the subject in the Bill now before the House.
§ MR. NEVILLE
Any special peculiar remedy with regard to Belfast. Now it has been pointed out that there is a Bill which is directed to the special remedy of a legitimate grievance in Liverpool—("No")—and I ask the House to pay attention to the attitude of the Government to-day, and to recollect it, and bear it in mind when that other Bill comes before the House; and I ask them to contrast the attitude of the Government to-day with what we on this side of the House know will be the attitude of the Government when this Bill relating to Liverpool, which is supported by the Liverpool Tories, comes to be dealt with.
§ (5.10.) SIR CHARLES RUSSELL (Hackney, S.)
I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord has a very 1609 imperfect acquaintance with the provisions of that great measure, the Local Government Bill for Ireland. He has assured the House that the Government, by that Bill, are going to provide a remedy for the state of things existing in Belfast; and I presume he refers to the 30th clause of that Bill. He cannot have read it, or he would not have misled the House; he would not have made that statement. The clause provides, that, "Whenever it is represented by the Council of any County, Borough, or Municipal Borough"—I omit the other words—then the proceedings may be taken. What remedy is that to begin with?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman allow me to interrupt him? I desired to reply to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby; and I said that while the English Act required two-thirds of the Council to take action, the Local Government Bill for Ireland only required a majority. And, therefore, my contention was that we had not only proposed to do all that had been done for England, but to do more than had been done for England.
§ SIR CHARLES RUSSELL
I hope the supporters of the First Lord are content with that explanation. It seems to me to fall very far short of being a satisfactory one. The right hon. Gentleman made that statement in reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, no doubt, but he went on to say—and I believe he was understood by the House to say—that in the measure which the Government were bringing forward they would provide a remedy for the case of Belfast. Now, we all know that it is not a question of the division of parties in the Council at Belfast, for they are all of the one political complexion; and, therefore, under this Local Government Bill, if it ever become law, the grievance would be as great as it is at the present moment, and this Bill would afford no adequate remedy whatever. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, that nobody can say this is the most convenient way of dealing with the question; but it is the only way we have, and cer- 1610 tainly, having an opportunity of dealing with it, and of taking the expression of the opinion of the House upon it, we do not intend to lose that opportunity.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 172; Noes 195.—(Div. List, No. 13.)