§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)
, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, said it had been introduced by Irish Members for more than 20 years, and it was a curious commentary on the alleged ability or willingness of this Parliament to deal with Irish affairs, when it was borne in mind that since the days of Mr. Butt, attempts had been made to pass this measure by one Irish Party or another, and that to-day the question was no further forward in the direction of settlement. He had the curiosity to turn to the Bill brought in by Mr. Butt in 1874. It was backed by Mr. Butt, Sir John Gray, Mr. O'Brien, and Mr. P. J. Smythe. Every one of those gentlemen had passed away, and to-day it might be said that the attempt of the Irish Members to pass this Bill had come of age. It was a remarkable fact that in 21 years the various Irish Parties in the House of Commons had failed to secure a reform which other portions of the country had been in the enjoyment of for 30 or 40 years. There had been no reform of the Municipal franchise of Ireland, though there had been several reforms of various kinds of Municipal franchise in this country. The central idea of the Bill was to give every ratepayer a vote in the management of the Borough or the Municipality in which he paid his rates. Every clause in the Bill was already in existence in principle or in substance in English Statutes; and therefore, so far as the principle or the substance were concerned, there was nothing new in the Bill. The principle of the measure was assented to in 1892, 1462 by a Conservative Government, and the Bill was read a second time without opposition. The Conservative Government took an objection, which was also taken by the hon. Member for Mid Armagh, to this effect:—We are quite willing to extend the English Franchise to Ireland with regard to 11 towns, but we are not willing to extend it to 111 towns.In order to see what was the effect of that argument, take the county of Louth as an illustration. If the limited principle, suggested by the then Conservative Government, were sanctioned, the town of Drogheda, which had a Corporation, would get the Franchise; but the town of Dundalk, a larger town, would not. To suggest, therefore, that they could or ought to bring in a Bill which could have that effect with regard to two principal towns in the smallest county in Ireland, was a sheer absurdity. Take an illustration—the city of Dublin and its outlying townships. As soon as one passed the canal by the bridges which separated Dublin from Rathemines, he would be passing out of an enfranchised constituency to an unenfranchised constituency, and to suggest that a canal should make all the difference in the Franchise was absurd. There were some parts of Dublin not separated from the outlying townships even by a canal; they were separated by the North Circular Road, and the middle of the road was the boundary between the outlying townships and the city. If they applied the principle of the Conservative Government, persons on one side of the street would enjoy a complete Franchise, while those on the other side would be unenfranchised. Owing to the number of rating provisions existing in England, the Bill was somewhat long, but it was long because it applied exactly to the English principle. If he had his own way in the matter of drafting the Bill, he would extend the Parliamentary Franchise to Municipalities. He believed that before long, as we enfranchised larger masses of the people, the ratepayers would protest against the burden of Parish Councils, Parish Council Rolls, County Council Rolls, Municipal Rolls, and Parliamentary Rolls, and the growing cost of these registers to the electors A common register would have to be discovered in order to save the people 1463 the constant expense of registration. He thought that the Conservatives of the City of Dublin were entitled to a larger share in the corporate management than they now enjoyed. In the same way he thought the Roman Catholics in Belfast were entitled to a larger share in the management of Belfast, and he thought that some provision should be devised giving the Nationalists on the one hand and the Conservatives on the other hand a larger control and a larger share in the management of those towns than they at present possessed. But no such principle had been discovered as yet to place on the Statute Book, and it would be an innovation were they to attempt to devise it in this Bill. He concluded by moving the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ MR. THOMAS B. CURRAN (Kilkenny)
said, that in seconding the Motion of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Louth, he did so with that amount of diffidence which generally accompanied a maiden speech; in fact, his diffidence was greatly intensified by the knowledge of the fact that he was the youngest Member, not alone of the Irish Parliamentary Party, but the youngest of this Assembly, for which reason he claimed the indulgence which was characteristic of the House. The Bill, as his hon. and learned Friend had shown, demanded nothing of an extravagant nature, but simply asked that the towns in Ireland should have the same system of municipal franchise as existed in England to-day. It related not only to the municipal franchise in corporate towns, but affected the franchise in other towns having a governing body. The system of municipal franchise in Ireland was so grossly absurd and unjust that he could not see how anyone at all open to conviction could countenance its continuance or defend its existence. Why there should be such an unjust and invidious distinction between the system in England and the system in Ireland he could not under stand, but unfortunately that distinction did exist; and for that reason this Bill was introduced, to give the House an opportunity of remedying what was nothing short of a glaring anachronism. They were all aware that for many years past in England the occupier of 1464 practically any rated premises, no matter of what value, enjoyed the right of a municipal vote, whereas in every one of the 11 corporate towns in Ireland, except Dublin and Belfast, a man to have a vote must occupy premises rated at £10. Now, a £10 rating would frequently, and in very many instances, mean a rent of twice that amount. Speaking on this subject some three years ago, his hon. Friend the junior Member for Cork pointed out that his office in Cork was rated at £10—just high enough to qualify him for a municipal vote—whereas he had to pay a rent of £50 per annum for the same premises. Thus they found this anomalous and indefensible state of affairs, that in rich and prosperous England there was a low and accommodating Franchise, whereas in the poorer country (Ireland) there was an enormously high one. In the 11 corporate towns to which he previously referred there were various franchises to the number of three. Did not this appear to hon. Members ridiculous? The Act in reference to the collection of rates aided and abetted, so to speak, the municipal law, for when Parliament passed a special Act for Dublin every Householder was given a vote; but then the Collection of Rates Act allowed the vote only to holders of premises valued at £8. In 1892 a Bill to the same effect as this passed the Second Reading with the assent of the Conservative Government. The opposition of the Conservative Party was almost confined to the portion of the Bill dealing with non-corporate towns; but surely it was the poor and needy who mostly wanted the municipal vote to protect their interests? In 99 cases out of 100 did they not find the poor people and the helpless victims of bad sanitation? And to this very class Parliament hitherto, at any rate, denied the municipal vote. Some time ago, through the exertions of the hon. Member for Kerry, Parliament extended the Municipal franchise to Belfast, but there it was not yet reduced to the English level. Dublin has a special Act, but not one in five Parliamentary voters enjoyed the Municipal franchise. But if this House under a Conservative Government thought well to extend the Franchise to Belfast, why not, he asked, to Cork, and Kilkenny, 1465 and Derry? Exceptions were unjustifiable, and Cork, Kilkenny, Derry, Limerick, Waterford, and the other smaller towns had claims to justice and equality. He would like to quote a few figures taken from the Parliamentary returns showing, firstly, the inequality of franchise between Ireland and Great Britain; and, secondly, as between the municipal and Parliamentary Franchises in Ireland. In the first instance, Brest had a population of 206,000, and Dublin a population of 249,000. On the Bristol burgess roll there were 27,600 names, and on the Dublin burgess roll only 6,644. Again, Cardiff had a population of 82,000 and 11,400 names on the burgess roll, while Cork had a population of 80,000, but only 2,059 names on the burgess roll. Cambridge had a population of 35,363 and Limerick 38,000, but Cambridge had 5,400 burgesses and Limerick had only 457. Canterbury, with a population of 21,000, had 3,090 burgesses, but Waterford, with a population of 22,000, had only 679 burgesses. Kings Lynn, with a population of 18,000, had 3,302 burgesses, but Kilkenny, with a population of 15,000, had 269 burgesses. He could quote many other instances, but these were samples of the inequality of the Municipal Franchise between Ireland and Great Britain, and he contended that the people in Ireland were as eminently qualified to exercise the Franchise as the people of Great Britain. He would now quote a few instances of the inequality as between the Municipal and Parliamentary Franchise in Ireland. Dublin, with a population of 249,000, had 30,000 names on the Parliamentary Register and 6,644 on the burgess roll. Cork, with a population of 80,000, had 11,500 names on the Parliamentary Register and 2,059 on the burgess roll. Limerick, with a population of 38,000, had 4,927 names on the Parliamentary Register and 457 on the burgess roll. Londonderry with a population of 29,000 had 4,200 names on the Parliamentary Register, and 799 on the burgess roll. Waterford, with a population, of 22,000 had 4,000 names on the Parliamentary Register and 679 on the burgess roll; Kilkenny, with a population of 15,000, had 1,756 on the Parliamentary Register and 269 on the burgess roll. These last figures, brought them face to face with 1466 a monstrous anomaly. They saw that the occupier of what the late Mr. W. H. Smith called a mud hovel was by law capable of voting for a Member of Parliament, a man who might be called upon to cast his vote in a matter of peace or war, or on something else of urgent Imperial importance, yet when it came to electing a person who was to superintend sanitary arrangements and the repairing and watering the streets of a town, the mud—cabin was considered incapable, and consequently denied a vote. The injustice and anomalies this Bill sought to remedy has time after time been brought under the notice of the House. No Member of the House had ever set up a tolerable defence for the existing ridiculous state of affairs. Their grievance had been admitted, but nothing had been done, notwithstanding the almost innumerable occasions they had sought the legislative intervention of Parliament. Surely a broad Municipal franchise was not an extravagant demand. Time after time the Municipal Laws in Great Britain had been altered and changed, and changed and altered again, until it was now in a fairly satisfactory condition, but for the last 50 years the Irish Municipal Law had been left undisturbed with all its glaring defects. Surely, at the eleventh hour they might hope for the alterations the Bill suggested. There was nothing extravagant in what they asked. They simply asked Parliament to extend to Ireland those rights of citizenship which were exorcised and enjoyed in every other portion of the United Kingdom. They asked, in the interests chiefly of the working people, the health of whose homes so largely depended on the good administration of the cities in which they dwelt.
§ Sir A. K. ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
said, the hon. Member who had just resumed his seat described himself as the youngest Member of the House. He trusted it might not be regarded as presumptuous on the part of one who had been longer in the House if He ventured to compliment the hon. Gentleman upon the ability of his speech and upon the contribution he had made to the debating power of the House. And he hoped, too, that this, coming from an English Member, would not be regarded as a new Irish grievance. He wished to say a few words on this Bill, first, as an English Member 1467 who had taken some interest in municipal matters; and, secondly, as one who had always felt that upon the question of local government in Ireland that there was a necessity for co-operation on the part of both English and Irish Members. Local Government had been conferred widely, and he thought wisely, upon both England and Scotland, and he assumed that had been done in consequence of the advantage which it was calculated to confer on both those countries, and, though he admitted there might be certain points of difference between the conditions, he was not prepared to assent to the proposition that the differences and the dissimilarities were so great that what had been done here could, in principle, be refused in the case of Ireland. On the contrary, he, as an English Member, welcomed this step towards a unity of the laws of the different branches of the Kingdom, and he was sorry to hear the hon. and learned Member who moved the Second Reading suggest that the Conservative Party had been indisposed to discuss such a measure. For his own part he had desired to do this upon his Amendment on the Address in favour of Local Government for Ireland, and also upon the recent Irish Guardians Franchise Bill, the principle of which, assimilating the laws of England and Ireland, he also supported. He remembered that on the occasion of the last Debate there was a consensus of opinion in favour of the principle of this Bill. [Mr. T. M. HEALY: "Who blocked it?"] He believed in discussion and not in blocking discussion, a view which he knew was shared by many Conservatives. His view was that the only possible standing ground for Unionists with reference to the government of Ireland was that they should be willing to afford facilities for redressing and remedying abuses and anomalies, and to show they believed the British Parliament was not only willing but capable of doing justice by dealing with matters of this description. He had always maintained that the position of local government generally in Ireland was absolutely indefensible. He gave a general and a hearty support to the Bill of 1892 on the ground that it at least made an attempt, though he admitted an attempt with some few blemishes, with safeguards which he thought 1468 were illusory, but which could have been materially modified in Committee, and he did so because he thought a reform of local government in Ireland, apart from all other considerations as affecting the various branches of the Kingdom, was a right which was due to the people of that country, and one which ought to be conceded, not, as usual, under pressure and by peacemeal, but readily and on broad practical principles, and, in that Bill, the franchise, the areas, &c., to be at least wide and right. Who would attempt to justify the present position of county government in Ireland? Who could say that, while England and Scotland had representative institutions for local government, nomination by the sheriff of a county of a grand jury, which had no continuity and only a spasmodic existence for a day or two from year to year, was a satisfactory state of things? In the case of Ireland an Act of Parliament was required to authorise even the building of a new court house. Who could say that was a condition of things which ought to be maintained for an hour longer than the time required to make a reform of a state of things which, apart from any imperial considerations, was indefensible in itself? Were there not anomalies of the most extraordinary character in Ireland which demanded redress? Was it a desirable state of government in Ireland that in so many cases it should depend upon the terms of particular Acts of Parliament instead of upon some general law? That there should be in Ireland franchises varying in almost all amounts, that there should be varieties of qualification; and differences existing between the very groundwork of the franchises in the different towns; that there were gross anachronisms and survivals, and, in the non-municipal towns, scarcely any sanitary powers at all, were to his mind reasons which were conclusive in favour of the making of the change in principle, reserving details, and as an instalment of reformed local government, which was desired by the Bill. But perhaps the greatest anomaly of all was that, while Ireland was in the enjoyment of household suffrage so far as Parliamentary institutions were concerned, when it became a question of attending to a local drain or of care for the health of the people in a particular 1469 locality, it should be supposed that the comparatively rich only had an interest in the welfare of the people. Why should Ireland and Scotland, or Yorkshire, have to come to London at all for such purely domestic and local purposes? He was not making any invidious distinction between the rich and poor, but, after all, the rich could, in time of danger from disease, fly to more healthy localities, while the poor, because of their employment and their families, were anchored to the place in which they worked and resided. It therefore became necessary that opportunities should be afforded for the expression at municipal elections of the views of those who, like the poor, had such a deep interest in the health and strength of the localities in which they passed their lives. It was an undoubted fact that large portions of the urban populations of Ireland were absolutely excluded from the opportunity of expressing their opinions on municipal affairs, and accordingly, in his view, no real objection could be raised to the principal provisions of the Bill. It should be remembered that Local Government was successful according as it conduced to the health of the people; for there were on measures of more vital import to the community than those which had for their object the narrowing of the kingdoms of disease and death. When the Bill was last before the House, in 1892, Irish Members of both Parties supported it, and the hon. and learned Member for Mid Armagh (Mr. Barton) almost alone presented two objections to it. One was that in many of the towns the burgesses would be taken by surprise. That objection might have been well founded in 1892; but it could not now apply, after the full discussion of the measure in that year. The other objection was that the Bill contained new clauses; but the clauses of this Bill were practically the same as the clauses of the Bill of 189. The hon. and learned Member also urged in 1892 that the Bill should be limited to the 11 Municipalities of Ireland. But no real ground could be advanced for making such a distinction. It was obvious that it would widen the sense of injustice felt in Ireland, and would also increase the anomalies of Irish municipal law, instead of assimilating it to the English 1470 local Franchise. The point was, moreover, only one as to the form, not as to the substance, of local administration, since incorporation made on real distinction from a sanitary point of view. He himself would apply the Parliamentary Franchise in every branch of the Kingdom equally and solely for local purposes. He would also support the Motion to refer the Bill to the Grand Committee, because he believed such a course was calculated to expedite its progress and to give the fullest opportunities for the discussion of any of its provisions to which objection might be taken. Moreover, there was need of much more devolution, both in and out of Parliament, and all round. Exception might be taken to some of its details, and the question of rating might demand consideration, differing as it did in England and Ireland, and contracts having been based on that difference, but he ventured to say that to the principle of the Bill no exception could be taken. It proposed to give to Ireland advantages which England and Scotland already enjoyed. There was no real ground for the distinctions between the countries in those matters, and those distinctions only strengthened that particularism to which some of them objected. The best and strongest attitude for the House to adopt was that everything they believed to be wise for England would presumably be wise for Ireland, that practical equality, so far as possible, was equity, and that the Imperial Parliament was willing to apply to Ireland laws which benefited the other branches of a United Kingdom.
§ MR. W. FIELD (Dublin, St. Patrick)
trusted that those Conservative Members who were constantly declaring that they were desirous to put Ireland on an equal footing with England in regard to beneficial laws, would follow the example of the hon. Member for South Islington, and support this effort of the Irish Members to have the English municipal law extended to Ireland. Indeed, he could not imagine how any level-headed and sensible man who posed either as a Liberal Unionist or a Conservative could object to the measure, seeing that it merely proposed to introduce into Ireland municipal laws that had existed for a long time in England. The deepest dissatisfaction prevailed amongst the 1471 artisans, not only of Dublin, but of all the towns and cities of Ireland, with the existing state of the municipal franchise. It was, certainly, most preposterous and absurd that a man who could vote for a Member of Parliament was, at the same time, disqualified for voting for a municipal representative. But though the absurdity was great in the cities and towns, it was much worse in the townships around Dublin. He happened to live in what was called a fashionable suburb of Dublin, the township of Blackrock, in which the light of the Conservative and Unionist intellect threw a beam all round. That particular township had existed for 30 years before there was a revision of the voters. The whole matter had been left in the hands of the town clerk, who was supposed to monopolise all the intellect, education, and political energy of the township. The existing municipal law in Ireland was full of anomalies. In one of the townships around Dublin the rating qualification for the Franchise was £10; and the residential qualification two years. In the next township, separated from the first only by a single street, the rating qualification was £8, and the residential qualification 18 months. In a third township the rating qualification was £6, and the residential qualification one year. In fact, the whole thing was a Chinese puzzle, and it would take the Lord Chancellor himself—for the revising barristers were unable to do it—to unravel the distinctions in municipal qualifications that were scattered all over Ireland. As he had said, the legal gentlemen who had to administer the municipal law were unable to give clear decisions upon the extraordinary Acts of Parliament passed by this House for Ireland. The present Bill would do away with all those puzzling anomalies, by establishing one municipal law which would embrace the whole country.
§ MR. DUNBAR BARTON (Armagh, Mid)
said, it was apparent from the language used by the supporters of the Bill that an onslaught upon its principle generally was expected, but though he did not mean to carry his objection to the extent of opposing the Second Reading, there were many points upon which criticism might be fairly offered. Four of the towns which would be affected by the Bill were in his constituency, and as 1472 far as he knew not one of them desired, while one of them would certainly object to the provisions of this measure. With the general observation of the hon. Member for South Islington everyone would agree, and if this were a resolution in favour of the assimilation of the municipal institutions in Ireland and England he would not rise to discuss it. The Member for Islington had made a benevolent speech in favour of the general prospect of assimilation between the institutions of the two countries. But he (Mr. Barton) happened to represent four towns that would be affected by this Bill; his constituents lived in a work-a-day world, they could not afford to indulge in this general spirit of benevolence, and he thought if this Bill was not a general resolution but a Bill which it would be endeavoured to pass, no one would dispute that he was entitled to criticise it as a Bill and not as a general resolution. The hon. Member for Islington said, this Bill followed the English analogies; but that was precisely what it did not do. If it did, he himself should have little objection to it. He did not object to the whole question being dealt with in a large and statesmanlike manner, but this was a Bill which dealt with it in a fragmentary and piecemeal way, parts of the English legislation being pitchforked together for Ireland without the contracts which accompanied the English Bills, and which ought to accompany any Bill of this kind for Ireland. He complimented the seconder of the Motion on his speech, in which he dealt fairly with the subject; and, indeed, against the speech he had nothing to say. If this Bill was confined to the 11 municipal corporations, and if it dealt with them as they were dealt with by the English Act of 1882, he would not rise to oppose the Bill. But it did not do anything of the kind. It was not confined to the municipal corporations, but it proposed to introduce 100 other towns, some of them so small as to be almost villages—towns with 1,100 and 1,200 inhabitants, or with just the limit of population of 1,500, to bring them within the Towns Improvement Act. He remembered on one occasion being about to leave one of these towns, and he was entreated to defer his departure for a day, because else their census returns would show 1473 a decrease within the 1,500 limit. In the inclusion of these small towns the Bill did not follow the English analogy. In England the Act was accompanied by a codification and consolidation of the law, and dealt with it in such a manner that the Government draftsman was occupied for two years in carrying it out. These small towns in Ireland ought to be dealt with in connection with the reform of Local Government for counties, Municipal Corporations being dealt with by themselves on a basis suitable to their circumstances. There were many questions closely connected with the Franchise which had to be dealt with when the English Act was passed—incidence of rating, boundaries, and other matters that could not be left out of view, and these matters were dealt with in consideration of the circumstances existing, but different to those in Ireland. There was no attempt in the Bill to alter the elastic Irish system of 1840, but there was a putting of new wine into old bottles which would be attended with the inconveniences attending such a proceeding. In the smaller Irish towns, such as the principal town he represented, the principle was followed that there should be a £5 rating franchise, and nobody was rated who had not the Franchise; but with this Bill would come in a wholly different state of things, though the incidence of rating would remain. As to the qualifying period, he would be surprised to find any analogy to the three months' residential qualification in the English Act.
§ MR. BARTON
said, after being told, as he had been by one hon. Member, that Blackrock was a type of irregularities and anomalies, it was rather an unfortunate precedent. In 1878 a Committee dealt with this subject, and occupied three years in taking evidence and preparing its Report, and in their recommendations they advised that a distinction should be made between corporate towns and small towns, some of the latter being admitted to the list of corporate towns, but the main body of them, the Committee reported, could not be appropriately treated as corporate towns. In 1892 this distinction 1474 was pointed out by Mr. Hadden, then Irish Attorney General, who, on behalf of the late Government, offered no opposition to the principle that the Municipal Franchise in Ireland should be assimilated to that in England; but he said the measure for effecting this should be accompanied with proposals for dealing with the small towns in a system of county government. But a Local Government Bill for Ireland hon. Members below the Gangway had refused, and now they proposed to deal with the subject, inverting the proper order of proceeding, and dealing with it in a fragmentary and unbusiness-like way. The question of administration in small towns was closely allied to, and ought to be considered in connection with, that of county government. The two ought, therefore, to be dealt with together, and the smaller towns not included in a Bill having reference to Municipal Corporations, which they could not be safely and conveniently dealt with at the same time. He thought the occupation of Wednesday in the discussion of such Bills as the present one, and that of the previous Wednesday, was very inconvenient, and really a mere waste of time. The practice was growing of endeavouring, particularly on those occasions, to obtain assent to the general principles in a Bill, though the Bill itself might be crude and incomplete as this was, and then sending it to a Grand Committee, for which the Bill was unsuitable. There had been some experience of those Committees.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
rose to order, on the ground that the hon. and learned Member could not enter upon the question of Grand Committees; for it would be anticipating a discussion on a subsequent Motion.
§ MR. BARTON
said, he did not intend to go into that point, and then repeated his objections to the Bill. Speaking on behalf of the towns in his constituency, he was bound to say that the people did not want the Bill, and believed that it would be most unjust to apply it to them, unless it was accompanied by an alteration in the incidence of the rates. He hoped also, in the interests of the smaller towns in Ireland, that the Bill would not be passed into law. The Bill, as he had said, embodied a general proposition which nobody disputed, but it was crude 1475 and inadequate in its details. He thought, moreover, that a Bill of this kind ought to be brought in on the responsibility of the Government, if it was to bring about any effective and general reform.
§ MR. HARRINGTON (Dublin, Harbour)
said, the hon. and learned Member for Mid Armagh, was evidently in favour of general resolutions embodying general principles, and his only objection was as to the process by which these principles could be passed into law. He did not know any means by which this could be done, except by introducing Bills into the House; and so far as the Nationalist Members were concerned, they had no other opportunity of doing so, and of giving practical effect to their views than by taking advantage of the Wednesday sitting. The hon. and learned Member seemed to take up a peculiar position in this matter. He had stated that he had no objection to the principle of the Bill, or to the extension of the Franchise to the corporate towns, or even to the smaller towns, only that in the latter case it should be accompanied by a reform of Local Government.
§ MR. BARTON
said, he objected to the proposed extension of the Franchise unless it was accompanied by an alteration in the incidence of rating, without which it would not be fair to those who paid the rates.
§ MR. HARRINGTON
said, it would be easy to meet that difficulty, but the practical way of coming to the purpose was first to help them to pass the Bill through its present stage, and then to help in amending it in Grand Committee if necessary. He and his colleagues were as anxious as the hon. and learned Member for a reform of Local Government, and that this extension of the Franchise should be used for the purposes of Local Government, but were people to be excluded from the franchise in regard to such small portion of the Local Government as they now had? Another objection urged against the Bill by the hon. and learned Member was on the ground of procedure, because it did not follow the English analogy, but that objection had really no weight. It was true that municipal corporations were differently dealt with, but they stood in the same position as ever so far as Local Government was concerned; and all the 1476 arguments the hon. Member derived from the recommendations of the Committee of 1878 were of no value, inasmuch as the condition of things the Committee dealt with had now passed away. The hon. Member had stated that in his constituency were four towns affected by the Bill, and that one of them, at all events, strongly objected to be included in it. He should like to know what section of the people of that town objected to the Bill, and in what way expression had been given to the objection. Was it the section that already enjoyed the Franchise, and would refuse it to others? There were one or two points in the Bill which he himself felt induced to criticise, and with which he would deal in detail at a future stage. In the first place, he regretted that the Bill was not made purely a measure for assimilating the municipal to the Parliamentary Franchise; for as he read the Bill now one of the sections would have the effect of excluding the lodger franchise in the different towns. There was one clause in the Bill which he feared would not operate very well for the purpose for which it was intended. One of the provisions, following the English Act, provided that the occupier of a House might pay the rates in a case in which the landlord refused or neglected to pay them. With regard to a separate House that provision might operate fairly, but in the case of a tenement House occupied by several persons it would be absurd to ask a man who occupied only one or two rooms to pay the rates for the entire house in order under this Bill to secure the franchise. There was one other provision in the Bill to which he objected, and it was that which included women suffrage. All through he had been an opponent of that proposal, and he was bound to say that he did not see that any great body of public opinion in Ireland was in favour of it. Therefore, he felt it necessary to say that if the provision was retained in the Bill at a future stage, be should not be able to support it. He trusted, however, that the Second Reading of the Bill would be now agreed to.
§ MR. W. E. MACARTNEY (Antrim, S.)
said, an hon. Member had explained that there had been no Legislation on this question in regard to Ireland for 21 years, but that was not so much 1477 the fault of the House as that there had been no strong body of public opinion in Ireland to demand it. Nor did he think there was any strong demand for the present proposals. At all events the Committee of 1878, which investigated the whole question of Municipal Government in the corporate towns of Ireland, declared that they were not able to find that there was any large body of public opinion in favour of an extension of the franchise. He agreed that the circumstances had very considerably altered with regard to the main provisions of the Bill; but he would suggest that the reason why this question had not been forced upon the attention of Parliament was that there had been no great popular opinion behind it in Ireland. He did not say that the system which at present existed was defensible, and he was not at all opposed to the principle of the Bill so far as it applied to the municipal towns. He believed that the reason there was no desire in the small towns for the extension of the municipal franchise was that no hardship had been felt by the inhabitants. If they had suffered hardship it was inconceivable that they should have put no pressure upon their Parliamentary representatives, and he had never heard among his own constituents of any desire that there should be an alteration in the form of government. If the franchise was given to these small towns the House would be flying in direct opposition to the deliberate expression of opinion by the last Committee of the House which investigated this matter, and before that was done he thought further inquiries ought to be made as to whether those who lived in these towns desired to see the system altered. He thought also that these small towns ought to be dealt with under the Local Government Act, and ought to form part of the ordinary County Government. For these reasons he should at the proper time object to the particular clauses which proposed to include them, and he thought that there should be some definite provision in the Bill by which the small towns should be excluded from the extension of government under the Bill unless they desired themselves to have it.
THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (MR. J. MORLEY, Newcastle
1478 upon Tyne)
I think very few remarks from me will suffice in dealing with the proposal now before the House, because, with one remarkable exception, all the Gentlemen representing Irish constituencies are prepared to agree to the Second Reading of this Bill. I think the difference in tone between the hon. Member for Islington and the two representatives of Irish Conservatism, the hon. and learned Member for Mid Armagh and the hon. Member who has just spoken, is a contrast which ought not to be lost on the hon. Member for Islington himself. He will now see, and it is a pity that English Unionists cannot more clearly comprehend, the difference in tone, the difference in political view, and the difference in the equalisation of political rights in Ireland and that which prevails amongst the better class of English Conservatives. If he has listened to the speeches of the hon. Members for Mid Armagh and Antrim he will recognise what it is that makes the Gentlemen sitting behind him who represent Ireland so much more bitter in their politics than English Radicals are, generally speaking, in reference to English politics. That is because the views of the majority of the people in Ireland, when it is attempted to press them upon this House, are encountered, not by what I may call an enlightened Conservative Opposition, but by the old ascendency doctrine, which means nothing less than the preservation of all those privileges which we in England regard as privileges which ought no longer to be preserved.
§ MR. BARTON
said, he never based his argument upon any suggestion of ascendency in Ireland, but on the plain grounds of Irish life.
MR. J. MORLEY
The hon. and learned Member is far too accomplished a disputant to think of basing his argument on ascendency in Ireland, but what I am pointing out is that an Irish Conservative takes an entirely different point of view from that which is taken by Conservatives in this country. The hon. and learned Member declares that Wednesday afternoons are now being systematically wasted in this House, and asked why were not gentlemen from Ireland content with bringing in a general resolution. Well, we know perfectly well what would happen in that 1479 case; the hon. and learned Member for Mid Armagh would have got up and said:—Why do not hon. Members bring in a Bill? Let us see how the subject looks when it is worked out in its details.We know that method of Parliamentary tactics perfectly well. An hon. Member said that he wished Bills of this kind brought before the House in order that the British electors might see that this House is capable and willing to deal with Irish questions; the Bill that we are discussing this afternoon is exactly a case in point. The hon. and learned Member who introduced this Bill reminded the House that similar proposals, if not exactly the same in detail, have been brought before the House from the days of Mr. Butt, 21 years ago. Last week the Member for Manchester admitted that it was undeniable that the reform of the Grand Jury has been for 50 years, year after year, brought before this House; and this Bill used to be called a hardy annual. Here is an admitted grievance so gross that gentlemen opposite will not venture to divide on the Second Reading of the Bill. They admit the grievance, and yet for 21 years it has been pressed on the attention of the House without any effect whatever, and unless the House agrees to the proposal to refer the Bill to a Grand Committee this afternoon will be wasted. It depends on the hon. and learned Member for Mid Armagh and his friends whether the afternoon shall have been wasted or not. The hon. Member for Antrim said there was no strong measure of support in Irish opinion; well, now, if that were so, can you really suppose that all these gentlemen from Ireland would come forward with proposals of this kind year after year? The argument that the people interested do not desire the extension of the franchise has been used in reference to every extension of the franchise; but I do not believe for one moment that the hon. Member will tell me that in the City of Londonderry, for instance, there is no feeling amongst the population—the Catholic population I was going to call them—to have the franchise extended. The hon. Member was aware, I am sure, of the remarkable figures quoted by the hon. Member for Kilkenny 1480 in a speech which I should like to say was certainly one of the most excellent ever addressed to this House. It is an instance of how wisdom will sometimes come from the mouths of babes and sucklings. But will the hon. Member for South Antrim believe that in the city of Dublin there are 30,000 names on the Parliamentary Register, and only 6,400 on the Burgess Roll? Is he aware that at Limerick there are more than 10 times as many names on the Parliamentary Register as on the Burgess Roll? Is it to be conceived that in cases of that kind, where the numbers on the Parliamentary Roll are out of all proportion to the numbers on the Burgess Roll, there is no feeling on the part of those on the Parliamentary Roll, who are not on the Burgess Roll, of exclusion? Ireland is no doubt a queer country; but it would be monstrous if such exclusion as that should exist without a feeling on the part of those excluded of a desire to remedy the grievance which has been pointed out.
§ MR. MACARTNEY
said, he did not push his argument as far as that. He was willing to admit that in Londonderry and other places there was a popular feeling in favour of the Bill. But, speaking generally, he submitted that there was no strong feeling in favour of the alterations proposed in the Bill.
MR. J. MORLEY
The House must judge of the probability for themselves. Now a word as to the Bill. The hon. and learned Member for Mid Armagh said it was crude, fragmentary, and piecemeal. All Bills are crude, fragmentary and piecemeal which one desires to see rejected. But after comparing this Bill, which I have done carefully with those more competent than I am to discuss the details, I say that, so far from being crude, piecemeal, or fragmentary, it is—what I perfectly admit we do not always get on Wednesday afternoons from Gentlemen below the Gangway—a scientific Bill, dealing with details most carefully and elaborately. It is, I am told, excellently drafted, and it is such a scheme as the Government themselves might bring forward. There has been no Bill brought forward in the House this Session, either by the Government or a Private Member, to which the words "crude, fragmentary, and piecemeal," could be less 1481 justly applied. It supplies a new Local Government Franchise all over Ireland, primarily for the municipal boroughs, and the broad feature of it is that the municipal franchise is to go with the occupation and rating of premises irrespective of value and irrespective of the payment of rates actually by the occupier. No doubt one of the most important provisions is that the occupier's name is to appear on the rate-book, and even where he is not rated the occupier, but is occupying rated premises. This will do a great deal to assimilate the law in Ireland to the law in England. The provision is borrowed direct from the Poor Rate Assessment Act, which is an English Act, and which was extended to Parliament for Parliamentary purposes in 1884. This Bill extends the change to the Parliamentary Franchise. I can only say I cordially agree with that proposition. These proposals are the proposals made by the Government in their Registration Bill of 1893, and in the Bill which I myself had the honour of bringing forward last year, called the Period of Qualification Bill. They are not taken verbatim from these Bills, but contain the spirit of them.
§ MR. BARTON
asked whether the right hon. Gentleman meant that the franchise given by the Act of 1884 was the same as the English Franchise. He believed it would be found to apply only to the Franchise given to municipal corporations and only three months' qualification was required.
MR. J. MORLEY
There may be a difference either in the occupation or period. But I am afraid I have not studied the Bill minutely enough to say. Generally speaking, however, I believe that what I have said is true and accurate. There is one proposal which makes an important change—it is in the Clause of the Bill, which enables women, married or simple, to vote in local matters. That, of course, is an English provision. It is not now the law in Ireland. It is a matter entirely for Irish sentiment to settle.
MR. J. MORLEY
Well, it is a matter for Irish sentiment to settle. But, so far as the English analogy goes, that analogy would be in favour of the 1482 provisions of the Bill. Reference has been made during the Debate to the attitude of the Conservative Government in 1892. The Irish Attorney-General of that day said the Government approved of the Bill as far as it affected the 12 Municipal Boroughs. But then it has been said, the proper way to deal with the other places not Municipal Boroughs is to deal with them in connection with the general reform of County Government in Ireland. Here I would remind the House that when the right hon. Member for East Manchester brought in his Local Government Bill, the day after the Attorney-General made that statement, the Bill contained no provision of the kind we proposed in the Municipal Franchise Bill of 1892, or that is proposed in this Bill. The Local Government Bill brought in by the Conservative Government in 1892 refused to deal with places outside the 12 Municipal Boroughs. Therefore, when we are referring to the general reform of Local Government, the only Party, I venture to say, in the House who will ever attempt the reform of Local Government in Ireland as distinct from the larger and more organic reform to which the Liberal Party is pledged, the only Party to whom local reformers may look, is the Party led by the right hon. Gentleman, and he has shown by the course he took with reference to the Local Government Bill of 1892, that he, at all events, does not, when the opportunity is presented to him, intend to deal with the question of the 111 outside small towns in the way this Bill desires to deal with it, and as to which there is practical unanimity in the House this afternoon. I need add nothing more, except that the Government warmly approve of the Bill and hope it will go to a Second Reading without a Division. As to the subsequent step, I would only say we thoroughly approve of the proposition of the hon. Member.
§ SIR T. LEA (Londonderry)
said, that until the right hon. Gentleman spoke he was under the impression that there was complete unanimity with regard to the measure. But he spoke in a bitter tone of the hon. Member who spoke on behalf of the Conservative Members, and he heard what he said with regret. If the Bill were to pass unanimously this Session it could only be by a consensus 1483 of opinion that as an abstract theory it was right. When a Bill was unanimously accepted by the House, was it to be referred to the Standing Committee on Law? Who was it who prevented this and similar measures passing into law? The Government professed to be in favour of the Bill, but they took the whole time of the House, and prevented them from reaching future stages of Bills. He wanted to know whether the Government would allow private Members time for this and similar Bills, so that these discussions on Wednesday afternoons might not be wasted and fruitless.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
On Wednesday last I pointed out grave objections to a similar proposition in reference to a Bill which also proposed changes in the system of Local Government in Ireland, about which we were principally in agreement that something should be done. I have not the same strenuous and serious objection to make to this Bill, which deals with what is an admitted grievance, but I venture again to enter my protest against the course which the Government are now apparently habitually driven to accept, which is to send measures of a controversial character, or which may become of a controversial character, to be dealt with by a body of men who are not called together for any such purpose, and whose organisation utterly unfits them for effectively dealing with controversial matters. There was a letter in the Times only a day or two ago from one of the Chairmen of Grand Committees—the right hon. Member for Denbighshire. I did not read it myself, but if the contents have been rightly represented to me, he complained that it was perfectly impossible for the Chairman to adequately order these Grand Committees, or see that the business was rapidly and decorously carried out. That may be, and I think is, a small matter when you are dealing with technical and comparatively non-controversial Bills, but it becomes a serious matter when you are dealing with Bills of large scope, such as are entrusted to the Government to bring in, and 1484 which are hardly ever passed under the guidance of a private Member. It is quite true that the Bill does not present, in any of its main features, a large surface of attack; but all who know anything about Ireland must be aware that there are always subsidiary points which sometimes raise the bitterest controversy; and these should not be left to the decision of such a tribunal as our Grand Committees have proved themselves to be. I do not think it is likely that the Bill will pass through the Grand Committee absolutely without amendment; but it will be the object of the majority to secure that result; and look at the monstrous injustice that will be done if the House be deprived of the opportunity of dealing with it on its subsequent stages. I understand that, if a Bill goes through a Grand Committee without amendment, the Report stage is altogether avoided and the House may be asked at once to pass the third Reading. I am told that this is what has actually happened with regard to one Bill of which the details were not discussed on the Second Reading; it has gone through the Grand Committee without any amendment whatever. The result is that this House may be and will be called upon to pass the Third Reading without having had any opportunity of passing a judgment upon the details of the Bill. I do not think this is the way in which a large and important question like the government of Ireland ought to be treated. For these reasons I venture to protest on broad grounds against a course to which I infer the Government are giving their support. I should be doing wrong if I remained silent, and if I allowed the Motion to pass without expressing the general view of policy on this particular question which I have always strongly entertained.
MR. J. MORLEY
As the right hon. Gentleman is not going to divide against the Motion, which I am glad to hear, I need not make more than one or two remarks on what has fallen from him. I may point out that, if this is not a Bill which can be referred with advantage to a Grand Committee, it is perfectly clear that no Irish Bill ever can be so referred. I cannot conceive of any Irish Bill coming to and passing through this House less bristling with contentious 1485 points, or, to use the right hon, Gentleman's own phrase, exposing a less surface to attack. Therefore, if a Bill of this kind cannot go to a Grand Committee, no Irish Bill can do that. But what a serious position to take—serious, that is, from the right hon. Gentleman's point of view, but not from mine—that no Irish Bill is to go through the House unless it goes through Committee stage in the whole House. That would suit my view very well, because the result would be that not half so many Irish Bills would get through the House, and that would give support to my contention that this House is not capable, from want of knowledge, of making good laws for Ireland. That proposition would receive immense support from the following of the course which the right hon. Gentleman's tactics would involve.
§ MR. BALFOUR
Of course I do not accept the conclusion that no Irish Bill should be referred to a Grand Committee.
MR. J. MORLEY
I quite understand that, but I put it to the right hon. Gentleman whether he can imagine any sort of Bill which could be less contentious than this. I can discover in it abundant grounds for differences of opinion, but nothing like grounds for those exasperating contentions with which we are familiar upon Irish subjects. The right hon. Gentleman is right in saying that, if the Bill were to pass through the Grand Committee without amendment, then the House would have no further voice in the matter until the third reading; but, if there were any serious abuse of the powers of the majority in the Grand Committee, any tyrannical overriding of the minority, it is open to the House to recommit the Bill, and it would be in the power of the House to discuss every clause in it. I think the position taken by the right hon. Gentleman is rather dangerous from his own point of view, though not at all from the point of view of the Home Rulers; but I am glad that he assents to this proposal.
§ MR. MACARTNEY
said, the Bill was only circulated on Monday, and time ought to be allowed for its consideration by the local authorities interested before it was proceeded with by the Grand Committee.
§ Motion agreed to.