HC Deb 06 July 1896 vol 42 cc764-76

From and after the commencement of this Act the three wards called respectively the East Ward, the North Ward, and the South Ward, into which the city was divided, shall he abolished (save so far as may he necessary for the purpose of any such bye election as aforesaid), and five new wards shall be created in lieu thereof as shown on the deposited map, to be designated the North Ward, the South Ward, the East Ward, the West Ward, and the Waterside Ward, and every ward shall comprise all the houses, lands and hereditaments within the limits of the same as defined on the deposited map, and the boundaries of such five wards respectively shall be I hose described in the Schedule C to this Act.

An ordnance map signed in triplicate by Sir William Henry Houldsworth, Baronet, the Chairman of the Committee of the House of Commons to whom the Rill for this Act was referred, showing the limits of the said five wards respectively as fixed by this Act, shall within two weeks after the passing hereof be deposited in the Private Bill Office of the House of Commons and with the Town Clerk and the Clerk of the Crown and Peace of the City and County of Londonderry at their respective offices, and a copy of such map certified by the Town Clerk as correct shall be sent by him as soon as conveniently may be to the Local Government Board: Provided always that in the event of any discrepancy being found to exist between the limits of the said five wards respectively as defined on the deposited map and the boundaries of such five wards respectively as described in Schedule C the schedule shall prevail. Notice of this provision shall be plainly set forth on the map.

The map deposited with the Town Clerk shall at all reasonable times be open to the inspection of any burgess, and a copy of the same or any extract therefrom certified by the Town Clerk to be correct, shall be received in all courts of justice and in all proceedings as prima facie evidence of the limits of the said five wards respectively as shown thereon.

MR. VESEY KNOX (Londonderry)

rose to move to leave out all the words after "and five new wards shall be created in lieu thereof" to and including the words "set forth on the map," and to insert instead thereof the words— The Local Government Board shall, as soon as may be after the passing of this Act, divide the city into such five wards, and for that purpose may hold or direct any Inquiry that the Local Government Board may deem expedient. In dividing the city into such five wards, the wards shall be arranged with a view to the population of each ward being, so nearly as conveniently may be, equal, regard being had to area, and to the last published census for the time being, and to evidence of any considerable change of population since such census. An ordnance map, sealed in triplicate with the seal of the Local Government Board, showing the limits of the said five wards respectively as so determined, shall be deposited in the office of the Local Government Board, and with the town clerk, and the clerk of the Crown and peace of the city and county of Londonderry, at their respective offices. Notice of the determination of the Local Government Board, together with a description of the several wards, shall be published in the Dublin Gazette, and in the event of any discrepancy between the description and the deposited plans the description shall prevail. He said he would shortly state the circumstances under which it unfortunately became necessary for him to again trouble the House with this matter. In the city of Derry a considerable majority of the inhabitants were Catholics and Nationalists. According to the last census, out of a population of 33,200, there was a Catholic majority of 3,500. Until now the Corporation had been entirely Protestant and Unionist. That had caused a bitter feeling between the two sections of people—the one always demanding a continuance of ascendency, and the other always demanding equality. He had hoped that this question would be settled satisfactorily to all parties by the Bill now before the House, and, undoubtedly, the Bill did meet the views of the Catholics to some degree. It would give them a satisfactory franchise, and it would assure them some representation in the Corporation. The Bill proposed to take the five polling districts of the city and to make them the wards. The figures before the Committee showed there would be a considerable majority of Protestants in three out of the five wards, whereas in two out of the five there would be a majority of Catholics; in the one case a very large majority, in the other a somewhat small majority, but still a majority that would be sufficient in an election. The protest he had to make was against this division of a city, the large majority of the population of which were Catholics, in such a way that the Catholic majority must always be in a minority on the corporation. This was a question of principle, and one which he was, therefore, justified in bringing forward. He had no complaint to make against the Conservative Members who sat in the Committee on this Bill, and who gave a patient hearing to the Bill, but he believed that two arguments placed before the Committee weighed with the Conservative Members more than they ought to have done. The first was the argument that the Catholics, though in a majority of the population, had only the smallest part of the rateable value of the city. It was undoubtedly the fact that owing to historical causes, owing to the confiscations of years gone by, and the system of ascendency that had existed since, the Protestants of Derry, were, man to man, taking them all round, richer than the Catholics. But that argument was not one which, as a matter of principle, ought to have had influence with the Committee in dividing up the wards. In the Local Government Act of 1888, there was no reference whatever to valuation as one of the things which ought to be considered, therefore he contended that if the same principles of legislation were to be applied to Ireland which had been applied to England, valuation was not one of the things which the Committee ought, by rights, to have considered, or given considerable weight to in dividing up the wards of the city. The second argument used was one which was stated by several witnesses, who said that in their opinion although there would be a considerable Protestant majority in each of the three wards, yet that the Protestants had recently been getting so much more liberal in their feelings that in all probability some of the Catholics would be returned for the wards in question. He believed that was a mere delusion. If the majorities in these three wards were as considerable as under the scheme contained in the Bill, it would be really hopeless for the Catholics to think of getting a man in for any of these three wards. He believed that on that point the Committee were misled by the smooth utterances of some of the gentlemen who came before the Committee, and whose Orangeism proved of a much paler tint at Westminster from what it was habitually in the North of Ireland. He had drawn this Amendment to meet what was in his belief the point of view of the majority of the Committee. He did not propose to revive the proposal in favour of six seats—three Catholic and three Protestant. He thought that was a fair and just proposal, and one which, if adopted would have tended to secure the permanent peace of the city. It was, however, put forward and defeated, and he did not think he should be within his rights in putting that particular proposal before the House again. What he suggested was that the Local Government Board in Ireland—which the House would admit was not an authority prejudiced in favour of Nationalist views—should have the power, after an open inquiry, to settle the limits of the five wards into which the city was to be divided, and to settle it with a view to secure equality in the number of inhabitants in those different wards. By such a division it was probable there would still be a Unionist majority in the corporation, but the Commissioners who went down to the spot and saw the condition of the town, would so arrange matters that in one of these wards out of the five, while there would still be a Protestant majority, it would be such a comparatively small one that there would be a chance of the Catholics running in what he might call a minority representative. These municipal questions had long given rise to bitter feelings in Ireland, and if the House could do anything to allay that bitterness, it would be a great advantage. He therefore hoped that this Amendment, which left it to an Irish departmental authority to divide up the limits of the wards, might meet with the acceptance of the House. This was the first case, so far as he knew, in the United Kingdom, where the polling districts had afterwards been taken as the wards of a city. He believed that was a bad precedent. The polling districts could be altered from time to time by the corporation, and if they admitted this precedent, and allowed a corporation to fix a polling district as it pleased, and for Party purposes, and then came to this House and asked that these polling districts fixed by itself should be made wards, there was a vista opened up before the House for the future, which the House ought to avoid. He ventured to think that was a bad precedent, and in the same way that the Local Government Board in England, under the Local Government Board Act of 1888, divided up municipal areas because of extension of municipal boroughs in this country, so it should be done in Ireland, after local inquiry by the Local Government Board. In that way an equality would be secured in these wards. He might say that the wards which had been put in the Bill were not equal in size. Two were practically equal in size to the other three, and these two wards, which were largest in population, were also the wards which were increasing year by year, so that if the rate of increase continued as it had been doing during the past ten years, in another ten years very much more than half the population of the city would be in these two wards. He ventured to think that was a mistake, and it was not in that way wards ought to be divided. He therefore submitted the Amendment to the House, believing it would, on the whole, tend to secure the permanent peace of the city.


seconded the Amendment. Everybody, he said, who knew Ireland must admit that everything dealing with the representation of places like Derry was a matter of a very delicate nature, and one which aroused a great deal of anxiety and feeling in the North of Ireland. Around Derry, Belfast, and other portions of the North of Ireland was scattered a great deal of that unpleasant feeling which had made certain portions of Ireland notorious, and he was quite certain that there was a general desire on the part of the House to endeavour to put an end, once and for all, to these unpleasant feelings arising out of religion, whenever they had an opportunity of doing so. This Bill was, so far as it went, a step in the right direction, as it gave some sort of municipal representation to the Catholics, who had hitherto been denied that right in Derry. But the justice was done in a halting sort of way, and in such a manner as to imply that the Catholics ought not to get that amount of justice to which they were entitled. It was proposed to divide the city into five wards corresponding to the Parliamentary polling districts which were fixed at a time when Party feeling ran high. It was alleged, in his opinion with perfect truth, that the polling districts of Derry were not fixed with a view to giving the citizens an opportunity of expressing their opinions freely and fully, but with a view to enclosing Protestants and Unionists in certain areas, thereby giving them an undue advantage. The proposal of the hon. Member was that instead of relying upon Parliamentary boundaries, as they extended the Franchise, they should have a resettlement of the municipal boundaries, and so give the people an opportunity of having themselves properly represented. He thought this was a matter upon which the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary might listen to an appeal, because there was no doubt many hon. Gentlemen opposite were opposed to them in the matter, but all they asked was that instead of relying upon the Parliamentary boundaries, they should, as the hon. Member (Mr. Knox) proposed, leave it in the hands of the Local Government Board. In his opinion that was an extremely liberal proposal, coming from a Nationalist Member, because they had no reason to think that the Local Government Board was inclined in Ireland to do justice to the Nationalist majority. But still, sooner than have the present system, it was proposed to leave the matter in the hands of the Local Government Board, and he asked hon. Gentlemen opposite what objection could they have to the drawing up of fresh boundaries by the Irish Local Government Board, as they had to the extension of the Franchise. As the Franchise should be extended, there was no earthly reason why they should not have a reasonable rearrangement of the wards, which would give full satisfaction. He had much pleasure in supporting the Amendment which the hon. Member for the City of Derry had moved, and he did so in the confident expectation that it would receive a large amount of support. After all, it was a monstrous state of affairs in a city like Derry, where the majority was unquestionably Nationalist, and which returned a Nationalist Member to that House, that when they asked for a rearrangement of the municipal boundaries, their appeal should be rejected, and it would leave the idea in the minds of the people that there was not a desire to give the Nationalist vote that power which their numbers entitled them to. He therefore appealed to the right hon. Gentlemen and the Members opposite to support the proposal, so that the injustice to the Nationalists of Derry might be done away with. [Cheers.]


said he desired to support the Amendment of his hon. Friend who represented the City of Derry, and there could be no question as to his full representative character, and what he had said on this matter the people of Derry said on the other side of the water. The proposal embodied in the Bill was that for the purpose of municipal elections, certain areas should be adopted coincident with the Parliamentary polling districts. His hon. Friend proposed that the Local Government Board should, after the passing of the Bill, draw up the areas, five in number, which should be the electoral areas for municipal purposes. The first point he desired to make clear to the House was that the city of Derry was now divided into three wards. In two of these wards a distinct Parliamentary majority was recognised. [An HON. MEMBER: "Catholics or Nationalists?"] It grated very much on his feelings to use the words Catholics or Nationalists, Orangemen or Unionists. At any rate they were all Irishmen, and it was unpleasant to have to refer to political differences, still more to religious differences. The fact was that the majority of the population of Derry were fully represented in majorities in two out of three of the existing wards of Derry. For all that there was no representation of the majority of the population of Derry on the corporation. The minority of the population at the last census represented over 15,000; the majority, a a population of over 18,000. It was now estimated that the minority at the outside were below 16,000, and the majority 20,000 But the 20,000 were absolutely unrepresented in the municipal affairs of their city. Last year there was passed through the House a Bill for the purpose of amending the law with regard to municipal representation in Ireland. If that Bill had become law, no doubt the majority of the population in Derry, as in other Irish cities, would have obtained adequate representation for municipal purposes. The Bill had, unfortunately, not passed into law, but the majority in Derry awoke to the necessity of taking some steps to protect their domination, and they had brought in this Bill for that purpose. To carry out that purpose they had three different lines of action. They proposed, in the first instance, to extend the boundaries of the city over 30 square miles not at present included in its limits. The majority of the population of those 30 square miles would have been entirely on one side—exclusively on the side of the minority of the corporation. They were obliged to withdraw that proposition—it was absolutely indefensible. The second proposition was that the Franchise of Derry should be a £4 Franchise. That resulted in giving them two-thirds of the representation of the city, against one-third secured for the majority of the population. This proposition also proved to be indefensible, and was also dropped. But the Bill had been modified, and by the consent of the other side, the municipal Franchise had been assimilated to the Parliamentary Franchise, with the exclusion of the lodger vote. The result was the majority of the people of Derry were still represented by the majority of voters, and if their will could be fully and fairly ascertained, no doubt the municipal representation would be a majority quite different from what existed at present. The third line of action which the promoters of the Bill adopted was—they said, "Let us in the redistribution of areas for municipal electoral purposes adopt the Parliamentary districts." The polling districts in Derry, as in other places were polling districts for Parmentary purposes, and it was a matter of absolute indifference to the ultimate result how they divided their Parliamentary areas into polling districts, because all the votes became part of the same total irrespective of the area in which they were gathered. But it was a totally different thing when they adopted the same distribution of areas for municipal purposes. As he had said, the majority of the people of Derry belonged to one side. The minority were the dominant class. The present dominant class belong to the other side, and the result of the adoption of this distribution of areas by polling districts, preserves indefinitely in the hands of the minority of the population, the greater portion of the municipal representation. It was only necessary to state that fact to convince any fair-minded man that such a proposition was open to grave question. A paper had been distributed to hon. Members with regard to the Bill, and great credit was taken to the corporation promoting the Bill for the terms to which they had assented, and it was said that the result of the distribution of areas would be that Catholics and Nationalists would secure 16 seats out of a total of 40. Apparently they thought it was a great concession and mark of great generosity that the minority who had dominated, should allow the majority 16 seats out of 40. But what was the alteration in the matter of voting? The same paper had to admit that so grievous had been the injustice of the existing system, that upon the Amendment now necessarily introduced, the total number of votes would go up from 800 to 4,200, over 500 per cent. increase. Yet when the sense of the people could fully and fairly be gathered, the majority was to be restricted to a third of the representation. He did not see how such a proposition could commend itself to the fair sense of dispassionate Scotch men, Englishmen, and "Welshmen, who unfortunately had to decide. He fully appreciated and sympathised with the strong feeling which existed in the North of Ireland amongst Catholics in regard to this and cognate matters. As the city of Derry was carved out of his Division, he could speak with some authority on the subject. He had looked at the matter as dispassionately as he could, and he was satisfied that any such proposal as that embodied in the Bill would have no chance of acceptance if it affected an English constituency.


said that, as Chairman of the Committee which considered this Bill, he was surprised that this proposal, should have been made, for this reason, that in the case of the Belfast Bill the opponents of that Bill urged very strongly that it would be advisable that the wards should be settled by the Committee and placed in the Bill distinctly instead of being relegated to some public authority. The Committee upstairs decided to place the wards distinctly in the Bill, and the proposal now was that it should be relegated to the public authority, and those who were interested in the way the wards should be divided would have no voice in the matter. The principal reason that guided the Committee in accepting the proposal in the Bill, instead of dividing the city into six wards, as the Amendment proposed, was the very natural division which the Bill presented. The polling districts which had been arranged before the boundaries question arose had been carefully considered with a view of the convenience of voters. One hon. Gentleman opposite insinuated that possibly those polling districts had been arranged to give increased weight to the votes of a particular party. That could hardly lie the case, because these polling districts were for Parliamentary purposes, in which case, of course, the wards would be massed together, and the result suggested by the hon. Member could not be achieved. There were two points, which the Committee felt were strong points, for adopting the proposal in the Bill. One was that it was a very economical arrangement. The franchise being the Parliamentary franchise, and adopting the Parliamentary polling districts, there would be no register to make at all, because the Parliamentary register, as soon as formed, would be the municipal register. ["Hear, hear!"] When there was an extension of franchise, too, it was always desirable that it should come into operation as early as possible. It had been suggested that the first election under the extended franchise should not take place until the end of next year, but the Committee, seeing the easy way the register could be made up this year, decided that the election should be held next November. If the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman was adopted it would throw the election off for another year, and there would have to be another Inquiry. He strongly recommended that the clause as it came from the Committee should be passed by the House.


said he could not but admit the fairness and courtesy of the hon. Baronet the Member for North-West Manchester, as Chairman of the Committee which considered the Bill, but on this particular point he did not agree with him. The question at issue was extremely simple, and the case of the Catholic inhabitants of Derry was absolutely overwhelming. The Corporation of Derry had circulated a memorandum claiming great liberality for themselves in introducing this Bill. They said that as under the present restricted franchise the Catholics had no representation on the Municipal Corporation of Derry, though they admitted they formed the majority of the population, this Bill, which would give the Catholics 16 representatives out of 40, was a very liberal Bill. He did not at all agree with the Corporation of Derry in the claim for liberality which they had advanced. The Corporation of Derry had seen the inevitable coming of a general Bill which would reduce to the English level the municipal franchise of all the towns and cities of Belfast. The effect of such a Bill in Derry, if no alteration was made in the existing wards, would be to give two-thirds of the representation on the Municipal Corporation to the Catholics. The Corporation of Derry therefore introduced this Bill, which they suggested was a concession to the Catholics, when really it was for the purpose of retaining a majority of the Corporation in the hands of a minority of the citizens. What the Catholics asked for was equal representation with the Protestants. They asked that the city should be divided into six wards, of which three would go to the Catholics and three to the Protestants. He contended that there could not be a fairer proposal than that, considering that if the English municipal system prevailed in Derry the Catholics would have two-thirds of the representation. One of the arguments advanced in support of the proposed arrangement for securing to the Protestant Unionists and Tories a majority of the Corporation of Derry was that it approached to an equal division of the rateable value of the city. One of the wards was valued at £27,000, and another at £16,000, and yet they got equal representation in the Corporation. If the Pill were passed without the Amendment the Catholics of Derry would have to endure a great injustice.

SIR THOMAS LEA (Londonderry, S.)

opposed the Amendment. He said it was unnecessary for him, after the clear explanation given by the hon. Baronet (Sir W. Houldsworth) to detain the House with any justification of the course taken and the decision arrived at by the Committee. Considerable alterations had been made in the Bill to meet the wishes of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and, in reference to the polling districts, the House should understand that they were arranged many years ago, not for any party purposes, but simply for the convenience of voters. The divisions of population were made with as near an approach to equality as possible, the lowest number of voters being 729, and the highest 945. Considering how population changed in a growing city, he did not think it possible to make the divisions in a more equal manner. Very careful had been the Committee's examination of the Bill, with the result that the £4 franchise had been struck out, and the extension of boundaries and consequent' Amendments had been accepted by the promoters to meet the views of hon. Members opposite. The only point now in dispute was as to the polling districts. These, as had been shown, had been arranged in the most convenient manner, and the Corporation of Derry was anxious to avoid the further delay that would be occasioned by reference to the Local Government Board. They wished that the elections might take place in November, and that this question should not be hung up for another year. It had been the almost unanimous desire of the House to support the findings of ordinary Select Committees, and after this Bill, against the wish of the Corporation, had been referred to a Hybrid Committee and subjected to a most thorough examination, he could not conceive that the House would reverse the decision arrived at upon a complete knowledge of all the facts of the case by accepting the present Amendment.

The House divided.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."

The House divided:—Ayes, 193; Noes, 107.—(Division List, No. 309.)

Clause 15,—