§ [Lords] (by Order).
§ THIRD READING.
§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."
§ MR. MAURICE HEALY (Cork City)
rose to move—That the Bill be re-committed to the former Committee.That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to insert a provision in the Bill amending the provisions of 'The Rathmines and Rathgar Improvement Act, 1885,' relating to the qualification to vote at the elections of township commissioners so as to make the provisions of 'The Poor Rate Assessment and Collection Act. 1869,' applicable to such qualification.He said the Amendment was intended to set right a defect which existed in the Bill at the present time. As regarded the merits of the Bill, he did not think there would be any difference of opinion; and he apprehended that the principal argument against the Amendment which he was moving would be that it was not right or proper that such questions should be raised and decided upon Private Bills such as that before the House. As a general rule, on questions relating to particular municipalities, it was not proper or desirable that the broad question of electoral representation should be raised; but he would remind the House that the Irish townships were very different in respect of those matters from places in other parts of the Kingdom. In Dublin the whole electoral law had been regulated, not by Public, but by Private Statute. Private Acts were in operation in the half-dozen townships scattered around Dublin. In the case of Rathmines the original voting system was carried out under the Statute which constituted the townships. Six years ago, in dealing with a Private Act, the 1604 House introduced electoral clauses into it; and he was not aware that there was any objection to any provision being included in a Private Bill so long as it did not encroach in any way on any general Statute. So much, he might say, for the argument to which he had referred as likely to be urged against the Bill. Another reason which he would urge for the adoption of the Amendment was that, being furnished with a suitable opportunity, the House would see that they had here a striking example of the necessity of local control. The Bill was introduced in consequence of a gross blunder made by the Governing Board in the township, involving a question of expenditure—the expenditure of a sum of from £80,000 to £85,000. The Commissioners had promoted a Bill for the purpose of erecting water works. They got into litigation, and the case was before the Irish Courts, and afterwards before the House of Lords, and the decision went against them. Had such a blunder, involving such an expenditure, been committed by a body of Nationalists, the Kingdom would have rung with the facts, and it would have been suggested that those were the kind of people they in England were asked to grant the control of their own affairs. They had an example of the kind from the other side in the promoters of the Bill before the House. He did not propose to do anything very exceptional or very abnormal. There was nothing of that character in the Motion that he had before the House. All he asked was that they should extend to this township the law that at present existed throughout the length and breadth of Great Britain. He need not go in for the question of compound householders of Great Britain; but he held that the provisions of the Statute of 1869 should be extended so far as it related to this particular municipality. The franchise at present existing was one established by a Private Act of 1885, by which it was provided that all male persons rated for poor rate were entitled to vote. Primâ facie, that should qualify everyone who was so rated; but, in consequence of a general enactment in premises under £4, the owner was rated and not the occupier, so that large numbers were excluded from benefits which they were entitled to enjoy. He said that the occupier 1605 should have a municipal vote just as he had one in the case of the Parliamentary franchise. He understood that the hon. Gentleman who represented the division of Dublin County in which Rathmines was situated intended to oppose this Bill. How could the hon. Gentleman defend the proposition that those who were qualified and competent to return him to the House of Commons were not competent and should not be qualified to vote for the return of a Commissioner to the Local Board? Putting the matter that way before the House, was, in his opinion, showing the necessity for the Bill. There could be no kind of logic in arguing as he had suggested. He could understand the logic under the old law—that a man should not be allowed to give a municipal vote unless he paid a municipal rate. That would be logical enough; but it was a fact that in this municipality a great many who were paying taxes had no votes, and many who were not paying had votes. There was no reason why the payment of the assessment of the poor rate should be taken into account in this way. The £4 rating, he would point out, meant a rental of £7 or £8, so that really the law had the object of setting up a rental franchise of £7 or £8. It would be said, no doubt, that his proposal would mean the creation of an anomaly; but he did not attach weight to that view, for, as a matter of fact, the Irish municipal franchise law was full of anomalies. They had various sorts of franchise. Ten places had one sort of franchise; Belfast and Dublin had franchises differing from each other; other towns had a £5 franchise; others, again, a large number, were under the Towns Improvement Act of 1854. The Dublin townships are all governed by franchises of their own. It was clear, therefore, that the argument of anomalies fell to the ground. He might further point out that in this very township of which he was speaking there was in force a law that existed in no other part of the United Kingdom—that was, the municipal vote was conferred after four months' occupation. It could not, on the whole, be fairly urged that there was reason to talk of anomaly, for, as they saw, there was an anomalous condition of affairs in existence already. He asked them to simply look at the law as it at present stood 1606 throughout the length and breadth of Great Britain as regarded the question of the franchise. He did not want to detain the House; but he could say that the grievance of which he had to make complaint was very keenly felt. There were 4,500 houses, and less than 2,000 of the occupiers had votes. Surely those who could vote for Imperial purposes, sending Representatives to that House, were entitled to vote on the local issues involved in municipal questions? He trusted the House of Commons would redress this glaring grievance by adopting the Resolution which stood in his name.
§ MR. H. PLUNKETT (Dublin Co., S.)
said, he did not think the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Maurice Healy) need have apologised to the House for taking up its time, for, speaking as Member for the constituency with a portion of which the Bill proposed to deal, he would like to tell the House that the question was one of very serious importance. He thought it his duty, as Member for the division, to put the case as it had been stated to him—to put himself in the position of the ratepayer, and to state the case for the ratepayer fairly. Before replying to the Member for Cork, he could not do better than give the House a true history of the Bill under consideration. The primary object of the Bill was to legalise certain changes that had taken place and that were found to be necessary, but which led to litigation. The Member for Cork spoke of the matter as a gross blunder, and he justified his Amendment in that way. All he had to say about it was that the Commissioners had not spared the expense necessary to secure the services of the best water engineer available; and if there had been a blunder—he believed it might be a pardonable miscalculation—it was simply a technical blunder on the part of the engineer. The litigation arose from the fact that the works were constructed in a manner at variance with the provisions of a previous Act of Parliament. Certain mill-owners felt aggrieved; they felt that their interests were affected, and they brought this action before the Master of the Rolls in Dublin, who decided against the Commissioners. The case was then taken before the Court of Appeal in Dublin, 1607 where four Judges unanimously decided in favour of the Commissioners and against the judgment of the Master of the Rolls. Then it was carried to the House of Lords, where throe Judges decided against the Commissioners and two in their favour. So that they had four Judges against the Commissioners and six in their favour. In the end the Commissioners entered into negotiations with the mill-owners, and the result was that the claims of the mill-owners were adequately conceded, and certain changes in the water-works—in their coustruction—were made; and this Bill was mainly for the purpose of legalising those changes. He could say that the action of the mill-owners in this matter had been very generous and patriotic. They could have put the Commissioners to an expense of £30,000; but, if the Act were passed, the expense would probably not exceed £25,000. The improvements were to be carried out by the 30th of August of the present year, and, unless the Bill was passed by that-time, the people of the township would be left without water. He ought to mention that there were subsidiary objects in the Bill, such as the acquirement of a certain open space, the acquisition of additional public buildings, a town hall, and other matters for the improvement of the township, which would involve an expenditure of £20,000. No objection had been raised by anybody to the objects contained in the Bill, and it was taken for granted that in accordance with precedent any objection to the Bill would have been taken at an earlier stage. The present Motion was entirely out of Order as being beyond the scope of a Private Bill, and there was no precedent for inserting at that stage a provision which was foreign to the objects of the Bill, and which was covered neither by the Preamble nor by any of the Parliamentary Notices. He was aware, however, that there were two precedents. The first arose in 1885, when, owing to the action of the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean, the existing £4 franchise was incorporated in the Rathmines Township Act. This, however, was done at a much earlier date in the progress of the Bill, and the reason of the right hon. Baronet for taking that course was that as Chairman of a Royal Commission on Municipal Franchises 1608 certain facts had been brought to his notice which rendered such a change in the Bill imperative. The hon. Member for North Kerry, speaking in 1887, bore testimony to the excellent manner in which that change had operated. There was a second precedent on which the hon. Member who introduced this Motion no doubt relied, and that was the Belfast Drainage Bill of 1886, and the importance of that was due to the fact that it cited the action of the House in the Rathmines Bill as a precedent. He wished, however, the House would bear in mind the criticisms of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer upon the question as to whether it was convenience to introduce Motions, such as that of the hon. Member for Cork, upon the last stages of Private Bills; the opinion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was that if broad questions of policy were to be allowed to be raised in this way on Private Bills it would have the effect of throwing the whole Business of the House into confusion by allowing miscellaneous questions of a public character and of immense importance thus to be brought on for discussion. There were peculiar circumstances in the Belfast case, too, which did not apply to the present Bill, for it was alleged that the Belfast Bill had been put forward stealthily. On the occasion of its discussion, the Rathmines case was admitted to be a bad precedent by the Government; and now, if they were to make a now precedent on the lines of the Motion of the hon. Member, he believed it would make matters a thousand times worse. They would be introducing an entirely new practice into the House, and he maintained that there was absolutely no precedent for introducing a Motion of the kind at the stage at which they had arrived. It was impossible to see what the limits of such a practice would be. For instance, he could not see what was to prevent the hon. Member grafting a Local Veto Motion on the Bill. He would ask the hon. Member to remember that this Bill had been introduced for a specific purpose, and that it was the wish of the ratepayers that it should become law. The hon. Member who proposed this Motion did not pretend that be had any support behind him whatever, and he could not point to a single Petition or Resolution against the Bill.
§ MR. PLUNKETT
If the Bill were amended in the manner proposed by the hon. Member its entire scope would be changed. He was not arguing that the franchise ought not to be changed. The Irish franchise was full of anomalies, which would have to be dealt with sooner or later by a Public Act; but that was no reason why they should now take action which would endanger the whole Bill and would put the promoters to additional and unnecessary expense.
§ MR. BODKIN (Roscommon, N.)
said, he wished to point out that the precedent of Belfast was a much stronger precedent than the case now before the House. The hon. Member who spoke last was right in saying that there was a broad distinction in the two cases; but the distinction was this—that in Belfast the franchise was regulated by Public Statute, and a change was sought to be effected by means of an Amendment in a Private Bill, whereas in the present case the franchise was regulated by Private Statute, and an Amendment of the Statute was proposed in the only legal, logical way—namely, by an Amendment on a Private Bill. It seemed to him, under those circumstances, that the quotations from the Chancellor of the Exchequer fell to the ground, for now it was proposed to amend the franchise in the same way that the franchise was created. He did not think any consideration ought to prevent them doing a thing if it was a good thing to be done, and if no practical inconvenience would be created by doing it. The hon. Member who last spoke admitted it would be a good thing to amend the franchise in the direction they suggested.
§ MR. PLUNKETT
I said nothing about the direction of the proposed Amendment. All I said was that the question of the franchise would have eventually to be dealt with.
§ MR. BODKIN
said, that, of course, he accepted the hon. Member's statement; but surely he was entitled to assume that, as so able an advocate had not a word to say against the proposed Amendment, its principle was a good one. The Bill would not necessarily be delayed if this Motion were adopted. It would create no real grievance to the Rathmines Town Commissioners, and the addition which it would entail to the Bill would be very 1610 slight indeed. He ventured, therefore, to submit that the Amendment was a proper one to be made.
§ MR. DUNBAR BARTON (Armagh, Mid)
said, he wished to adduce a few reasons in support of his argument that this was not a right thing to be done. In the first place, the hon. Member who made the Motion before the House was not proposing to remove an anomaly, but he was seeking to create one, and in doing so he was also creating confusion. It was a very strange and most inconvenient proposal. As his hon. Friend had shown, this matter had not come before the House through any mismanagement on the part of the promoters of the Bill. They had done everything in their power to perfect it, as was proved by the long course of litigation through which he went and the fact that six out of the 10 Judges before whom the case went decided in favour of the Commissioners showed that they had very strong reasons for their action. It was not accurate to say that this was a proposal to assimilate the municipal franchise of Rathmines to any franchise that existed in this country. Quite the contrary, for it was proposed to introduce into this Bill a municipal franchise which existed nowhere in England or Ireland or anywhere at all. The franchise in Rathmines at present was the normal franchise in Ireland. There were 117 municipalities in Ireland, and of these 90 had a £4 franchise—the franchise which existed in the present Bill—two had a lower franchise, and the remainder exceeded £4; and yet on the Third Reading of this Bill it was proposed to completely alter the franchise. That was a startling proposition which he believed neither the Commissioners nor the ratepayers could consent to; and he argued that if it was inserted in the Bill in its present form it would be fatal to it. He might be asked what was the franchise in the neighbouring townships. The reply was that it was a higher franchise, and yet they were to be invited to specially interfere in the case of Rathmines, and to give it a lower franchise than its neighbours. He hoped that the House would not introduce this extraordinary new franchise with a four months' qualifying period, seeing that it existed nowhere else, and Rathmines was not now suffering from any grievance.
§ MR. FLYNN (Cork, N.E.)
denied that any attempt had been made by the last speaker to answer the arguments of the hon. Member for Cork. It was admitted that a change in the franchise in the direction proposed in this Amendment was desirable and necessary. It was not contended that the Rathmines Commissioners were a model body; indeed, their proceedings in regard to providing waterworks proved the contrary, as they had gone to work in the most expensive way possible, and were seeking to introduce a costly and impure system. Had they been sensible men they would not have acted in that manner, nor would they have dared to act so if the franchise had been lower. In the case of Belfast, his hon. Friend the Member for North Kerry (Mr. Sexton) had, in consequence of the magnitude of the problem involved, to make an entirely new proposition to the House. In the present case it would be quite in Order to insert a provision respecting the franchise in the Bill; and no delay would occur in the passage of the Bill if this were done. All that was proposed was that the entire body of the ratepayers in the township should have a voice in the expenditure of a large sum of money. It was, no doubt, the ease that the Commissioners took a vote upon the Bill; but the advertisement calling the public meeting at which the vote was taken appeared only in a newspaper which had a very limited circulation in Dublin, and none at all among the class of people who claimed the franchise. Under these circumstances, he appealed to the Liberal and Radical Members to give effect to the principle of the extension of the franchise, so that all those who paid rates either directly or indirectly should have a voice in the election of the Commissioners.
§ *MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
said, the question could be put into a nutshell. In the first place, it was an extraordinary thing that the opposition to a Private Bill concerning the suburbs of the City of Dublin should come from the Counties of Cork and Roscommon.
§ *MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said, the hon. Member's statement did not at all affect the remark he had just made. Although 1612 the City and County of Dublin had six Members, not one of them had raised his voice against the Bill. The matter was not one of Party politics at all. Indeed, hon. Members had received a Whip in favour of the passage of the Bill in its entirety, signed by some of the leading Nationalists of Rathmines.
§ *MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said, the Whip had been issued in opposition to the opposition of the hon. Members. The question of the merits of the Bill was a very simple one. The Rathmines Town Commissioners, some time ago, erected waterworks at a cost of £150,000. The final Court of Appeal had decided that those waterworks were not constructed according to contract, there having been a conflict on the point for something like two or three years. The mill-owners, who sought and obtained an injunction against the Commissioners, had now come to terms on this Bill, and hon. Members opposite were asking the House to prevent the carrying out of a perfectly reasonable settlement which had been arrived at by the parties to the litigation. As to the question of the extension of the franchise, he himself, since he had entered the House, had voted at every opportunity for the extension of the municipal franchise, and he had been the first Member to support the hon. Member for Kerry (Mr. Sexton) in his proposal to extend the franchise in Belfast. That proposal, however, was made in the form of a separate Bill, so that it was really no precedent for the present Amendment. It was not a very convenient course to amend Private Bills in the way proposed, and he held that the House of Commons ought not to put difficulties in the way of a public body conducting the affairs of a prosperous township when they came forward with a proposal like that which was embodied in the Bill.
§ *THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. JOHN MORLEY,) Newcastle-upon-Tyne
This is not a measure on which the Irish Government, as such, has any view, or is in any way involved. But a considerable number of representations have reached me about it, and perhaps the House will not be sorry if I state the course which I think my hon. and learned Friend opposite (Mr. 1613 M. Healy) might most advantageously pursue. I agree with him entirely in the principle he desires to establish. I am entirely with him in the desire to see the franchise extended in the direction he indicates, and I have not been very much impressed by the argument of the hon. Member for South Dublin (Mr. Horace Plunkett) as to the question of precedence. I do not think that, the argument that there is no precedent for re-committing a Bill originating in the Lords carries us very far. At the same time, I am bound to say that practical inconvenience of the gravest kind will almost certainly follow the adoption of this Amendment. I know the Instruction is intended to he of a permissive character, and that the Committee might decline to accept the proposal it embodies; but we cannot deny that a great deal of time would be taken up by the proceedings which would have to take place, and we cannot hide from ourselves that it is perfectly possible that, were the intentions of hon. Members carried out and a provision for the extension of the franchise inserted in the Bill, the measure would have to go again to another place where it is not very hard to foretell the fate which would be in store for it. The result would be that the Bill would not pass the two Houses by the 1st of August, which is the latest date at which the measure can come into operation if the Instruction is to be complied with. I do not think it would be fair to leave the 25,000 people of Rathmines in the condition in which I think they would be left if the measure did not pass, and I would suggest to my hon. and learned Friend that he should withdraw the Instruction.
§ *THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES OF WAYS AND MEANS (Mr. MELLOR, York, W.R., Sowerby)
As Chairman of Ways and Means, I am the Chairman of the Unopposed Bill Committee before which this Bill was brought. In case this Instruction is carried, and after the speeches which have been addressed to the House to-day, I do not think anybody could regard the Bill as altogether unopposed. I, therefore, think it will be my duty to scud it before an opposed Bill Committee.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.1614
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time; verbal Amendments made; Bill passed with Amendments.