Motion made and Question put—
That it be an Instruction to the Committee to inquire into the municipal franchise and the present mode of election of aldermen and councillors of the city, and as to the expediency of applying the principle of cumulative voting to such elections, and whether it is expedient to modify or alter the law as to such franchise or election in other respects, and, if they think fit, to make provision in the Bill for the same accordingly.
§ MR. KNOX
said, that it was unnecessary that he should occupy the attention of the House with any lengthened arguments in support of his instruction which was intended to secure the representation on the Belfast Corporation of a minority of the population who were at present unrepresented upon it. He appealed to the fair sense of hon. Members on both side of the House to give his proposal adequate consideration and to come to the conclusion that an attempt ought to be made to remove the long standing grievances which the Catholics of Belfast had endured and were enduring. His Motion proposed that the Select Committee should have power to inquire into the question of the Municipal Franchise of the City of Belfast, and if they should think fit to make such changes in the mode of election as would give a fair share of representation upon the Corporation to all classes of the population. If the Committee were to be of opinion that the various sections of the population could be fairly represented under some other system than that involving the principle of cumulative voting—such, for instance, as by division of the city into wards—or any other way, he should be glad to accept whatever proposal they might make. The strong opinion he had formed was that cumulative voting was the only way in which the Catholics of Belfast could be fairly represented owing to their wide distribution among the rest of the population of the city. He did not ask the House to decide on 564 that occasion whether the principle of cumulative voting should be adopted or not, but merely to give the Committee power to adopt that principle in case they could find no alternative to it. He was aware that there were some objections to the principle of cumulative voting, owing to the experience which had been derived from the School Board Elections. There might be a waste of voting power in this country owing to the difficulty of ascertaining the views of the voters, but that would not be the case in Ireland where the politics as well as the religious views of every man were well known. In illustration of this statement he mentioned that at the last Derry Election they were able to tell before the result was declared, within 10 votes of the actual numbers. When the votes were counted it turned out that 10 voters being of an accommodating disposition, had promised to vote for both candidates and did vote for both—[laughter]—and consequently their votes did not count. On neither side would there be the slightest difficulty in working the system. It was objected that by adopting the cumulative vote they would punish Belfast, but on that point he was able to give the House some information which might influence its judgment. The question of inserting a provision in the Bill for cumulative voting was considered by the Land and Improvements Committee, which included the most able men in the Corporation, and was only defeated by the casting vote of the Member for North Belfast himself, although Mr. McCormack, an Orangeman, and one of the hon. Member's supporters, with other members voted for it. Since then there had been a contested election in North Belfast, and the hon. Knight who was the cause of the rejection of the cumulative vote in the Committee, though supported by the whole strength of his Party organisation, was only returned by 161 on a large poll. ["Hear, hear!"] The significance of the election was greatly increased by the fact that Mr. McCormack, who had supported the cumulative vote, was the agent and principal banker of Mr. Turner. He might illustrate the state of things that existed in Belfast by stating that Mr. Turner, the defeated candidate, was strongly of opinion that he would have 565 won if that story had not been circulated that Mrs. Turner was a Catholic. [Laughter.] That story—that cruel story—[renewed laughter]—having been circulated on the eve of the poll enabled the hon. Member for North Belfast to scrape in by the skin of his teeth. Consequently they had the fact, so far as they could get it, that the opinion of the majority of the people of Belfast was in favour of the adoption of this system. He appealed to the Conservative Party to support the proposal because the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Leader of the House had at various times declared themselves advocates of the cumulative system, and for his own part, he was prepared to pledge himself to support its application to the South of Ireland, whenever any proposal came before the House for the extension of the franchise. Desiring, as far as he could, to meet the views of those on the opposite side of the House, he was quite ready to accept the Amendment of the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Oswald) with a slight alteration, so that his instruction would read as follows:—That it be an Instruction to the Committee to inquire into the municipal franchise or mode of Election of Aldermen and Councillors of the City and whether it is expedient to modify or alter the law as to such franchise or mode of election, and, if they think fit, to make provision in the Bill for the same accordingly.As the Chief Secretary had in the case of the Derry Bill said that he was in favour of the franchise being made the same as the Parliamentary franchise, he assumed that he would apply the same principle to Belfast. He thought the Instruction was a reasonable one and one that ought to meet with the approval of the House.
MR. T. M. HEALY
in seconding the Motion said, that as regarded the Derry, Bill the Chief Secretary having committed himself to the Parliamentary franchise, he took it that he could not now recede from that position, and would support the proposal in regard to Belfast. He had the highest authority next to that of the Crown for the extension of the franchise in Ireland—viz., the authority of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. As far back as 10 years ago His Royal Highness put his name to the report of the Royal Commission 566 on the Housing of the Working Classes, which was also signed by a gentleman whose name was not unknown to the House, George J. Goschen, who, he believed, occupied a seat in the present Cabinet—[laughter]—and what those two people said with regard to the franchise in Ireland was to be found on page 13 of the Report:—The recital of these qualification shows that the exercise of the municipal franchise in Ireland is restricted on both sides, both as to the voters and as to the persons who may be elected to the local authority; more over, it proposes that in the Irish towns the majority of the people who are rated for the expenses of local government have no voice in the election of the corporate body who expend the rates.He was quite sure that the House being now made aware that that opinion was held in such distinguished quarters there would be some hesitation on the part of the Tory Party in voting against it. Even the hon. Member for South Belfast, when he read the names of Albert Edward and G. J. Goschen appended to that Report would entirely change his view upon the matter. His Royal Highness also appended his signature to a paragraph which attributed the comparatively high death rate in certain Irish towns to preventable causes and suggested that the fault lay with the prevailing restricted system of the franchise which was not successful in securing the services of a sufficient number of energetic persons in local bodies. He had always been in favour of the introduction into Ireland of the system of cumulative voting. He recognised that in Dublin the Conservative Party were inadequately represented in the Corporation, and instead of 12 Tories he should like to see 24 serving on the body. There was no better means of guaranteeing excellence in municipal life than by the action of an opposition, whether it was an opposition of Protestants against Catholics or of Catholics against Protestants. Some alteration in the present system of election was certainly necessary in the case of towns like Belfast, where intolerance was rampant, and he held that the House ought not to preclude the Committee by a Party Vote from making a desirable change. He might suggest one way by which a representation of the minority might be secured. Under the Lighting of Towns 567 Act of 1828, which was still in operation in about 12 towns in Ireland, elections were triennial, and in his opinion it would be a good thing if this system of triennial elections were adopted for all Municipal elections, because the result would be that more interest would be taken than now in the qualifications of the candidates. In Ireland Aldermen were elected not by the corporations themselves as in England, but by the voters. If these in future were allowed to vote either for Aldermen or for Town Councillors, but not for both classes of representatives, the object which he wished to see accomplished would be greatly assisted, for then the Catholics in Belfast could elect the Aldermen in the Protestant wards and the Protestants could elect the Aldermen in the Catholic wards. By such means as that some fair system of representation would be obtained both for Protestants and Catholics. It might be objected that Aldermen were now elected for six years, whilst Town Councillors were elected for three only. That, however, was an objection that could easily be met. Years ago the Chancellor of the Exchequer and more recently the First Lord of the Treasury had spoken in favour of minority representation and cumulative voting, and certainly the system ought first to be adopted where it was most needed.
§ MR. G. W. WOLFF (Belfast, E.)
said, that no one would take objection to the Instruction as now worded if it could be considered by itself. Everybody, however, who knew its real meaning realised that it was the same as the instructions originally set down. The meaning was the same, although the guise in which it was presented was different. There could be no doubt that if these directions were given to the Committee, the only things of interest that would be submitted to them would be the question of the cumulative vote. The two instructions were then practically identical. The Instruction as now moved was not only very much milder than the phraseology in which hon. Members opposite indulged last Friday, but those hon. Members had apparently relegated to oblivion all the dreadful accusations which they then thought it right to make against the 568 Orange body in Ulster. They were contented now in saying that it was a pity that Catholics could not be elected to the Belfast Town Council, but listening to them on Friday one would have thought that the Catholics in Belfast were all hewers of wood and drawers of water for the Protestants. He thought it very natural that the large Catholic minority should wish for representation on the Town Council, and he should not object at all to see a certain number of Catholics elected to the Council. What he did object to was the proposal that Catholic representatives should be thrust into the Corporation by artificial devices, and that the whole Municipal Government of Belfast should be treated exceptionally and altered in order to please the Catholics; it was true that hon. Members opposite said that if the representatives of the Corporation of Belfast would agree to the introduction of this cumulative vote they, on their side, would be ready to accept a similar change for the rest of Ireland. But when Bills applying to other parts of Ireland had been before the House, hon. Members opposite had not evinced any desire for the cumulative vote. Only a few days ago they had discussed a Bill affecting Waterford, and nothing was then said about this reform. It appeared to him that hon. Members from Ireland were anxious for the cumulative vote when they thought its adoption would be to the advantage of their supporters, but that they showed less anxiety for its adoption in towns where it would give Protestants the advantage.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
observed that if representations had been made, when the Bill to which the hon. Member had referred was before the House, that there was no adequate representation of Protestants in Waterford, they would certainly have been considered fairly by the hon. Members near him.
§ MR. WOLFF
asked whether any hon. Member would dream of introducing the cumulative vote in an English town where the majority of voters were Conservative, simply in order to allow the Radical Party to have a representation on the Town Council. [Ironical cheers.] When they spoke about Roman Catholics and Protestants in the North of Ireland 569 he said that it was not to the Roman Catholics as a religious body that they objected. The divisions between Roman Catholic and Protestant in the North of Ireland were as distinctly political as those between Radical and Tory in England; and it was because the Roman Catholic was a Home Ruler that he raised objection now. Knowing Belfast well, he defied anyone to divide the city into 15 wards so as to exclude Roman Catholics.
§ MR. SPEAKER
called the hon. Member to order, pointing out that he was now referring to a portion of the Bill not included in the Instruction.
§ MR. WOLFF,
dealing next with the cumulative vote, said that while they might not object, if it was desired by the House, to have cumulative voting general throughout Ireland, they did object to the city of Belfast being picked out as the town in the whole of the United Kingdom where the experiment should be made. Many hon. Gentlemen were strongly in favour of cumulative voting and of the representation of minorities. He doubted, however, whether anyone who took a broad view of the question, no matter how favourable he might be to the representation of minorities, would think that this particular scheme of representation of minorities should be confined to one town in the North of Ireland. On that ground he objected to the Bill, and trusted that the House would reject the instruction.
§ MR. LEONARD COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
said, that the evil with which the House was dealing was admitted by every one, or almost by every one. Belfast was a considerable town, where one-fourth of the population were Roman Catholics, and in the Corporation of the city elected by the ratepayers there was not a single Roman Catholic. The same phenomenon was to be seen in Derry, where the Roman Catholics were in the majority, and yet not a single Roman Catholic was returned to the local governing body. That was an evil which the House must agree in recognising. In his judgment the evil was not removed by the plea of his hon. Friend, that though there were no Roman Catholics in the Corporation of Belfast, they were not excluded because they 570 were Roman Catholics; they were excluded because it happened that the Roman Catholic was a Home Ruler in the North of Ireland. That was no excuse whatever. It was an evil in his view, even where there was no difference of creed, that one-fourth of the population of a town of Home Rulers should be unable to possess a Home Rule representative in the local municipality. It was impossible to obtain that knowledge in the governing body which was essential to the well-being of the body governed unless such a representation of the minority was provided for. But it appeared that in Belfast they could not even have fair dealing, because the minority was not only excluded from the governing body, but it was almost excluded from the posts of honour. Would that evil be removed by the proposal to extend the number of wards in Belfast? [Cries of "Yes!" and "No!"] It might be in some degree obviated; they might get a small representation, but would they get an adequate representation for an increase in the number of wards? They might have with a multplicity of wards the same exclusion of Roman Catholics and Home Rulers as prevailed now. It was probably unlikely, but the reduction of the municipal franchise in Belfast had failed to bring on the City Council any representation of Home Rulers or Roman Catholics, and the multiplication of wards might fail in the same way. To meet the evil it was proposed to refer the Bill to a Committee, and to empower it to consider whether any means could be devised in the way of remedy. Cumulative voting was one way; single preferential voting, vote by list, the machinery proposed by the hon. Member for North Louth were other means to the same end. Indeed, a dozen forms of machinery might be suggested and considered for getting rid of the evil if the Committee were given the power to consider them. It was said, however, that this method of requisition was not applied to any town except Belfast. His hon. Friend said it had not been applied to Waterford. He reminded the hon. Gentleman that it was not yet too late; he could move an Instruction to apply the same principle to Waterford. If the hon. Member did so he should be glad to support him.
§ MR. COURTNEY
said, that the hon. Gentleman was now changing his attitude. What was the merit and worth of the argument that the principle should not be applied to Belfast because it could not be applied elsewhere. The hon. Gentleman was a strong advocate of minority representation, and a life-long believer in the system. He could not understand the line of argument that it was an injustice to Belfast to adopt there a system, the merits of which have been accepted and acknowledged by his hon. Friend all his lifetime, because it is not in force in Waterford and Limerick. He did not think that was an argument which could have any hope of being accepted by any person outside the North of Ireland. No Unionist Member could really think that Belfast would be injured by the adoption of a system which was good in itself because it was not adopted in Waterford and Limerick. Then came another argument, which he admitted he considered a serious one—the argument that they ought not, in a private Bill, to propose any alteration of the public law. He had used that argument himself and he felt the force of it; but, at the same time, he also felt the force of an observation once made by the late Mr. Darwin—The great defect of English legislation and English Parliamentary procedure is your timidity in trying experiments.Why not try an experiment locally here and there, and see how it acted? Experiments had been tried in Ireland and in Wales, and it was proposed to extend them elsewhere. But was this a forcible objection? In this instance was there any public law in Ireland with respect to municipal elections which they would be departing from if they passed this Instruction? There was no such thing as a uniform procedure in Ireland. There were some boroughs which had separate Acts affecting them individually, but a general Act remained to be passed. There was no general law to be set aside, and they had, therefore, only to face the question as to whether they should allow the Committee upstairs to enter upon the consideration of this 572 question. Could the right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench object to this as a new matter? The hon. Member for Derry called attention to the fact that so far back as 1877 the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed this very special method of cumulative voting in reference to Irish elections. They all knew that the then Chief Secretary for Ireland put it as a provision in the Local Government Bill he brought in, and he was sure that the present Chief Secretary would see that in any future general legislation for Ireland it would be essential that some method of securing the representation of minorities should be introduced. They could not get good local administration in the South or in the North unless it was done. They had got another illustration in this country. When the Local Government Bill was being discussed in relation to the election of parish councils and district councils, he proposed the adoption of the process of minority election in two successive forms, and had the satisfaction on both occasions of carrying the whole of the Conservative Party with him. Could they, with all this authority and weight of argument, accept a plea of timidity, which they would probably shrink from, and that other plea which they might not avow, but which might be potent, that they could not afford to offend their friends in the North of Ireland? Could they on such grounds shrink from giving this, which meant a mandatory but a permissive Instruction to the Committee upstairs. Of course they had to pay some respect to their friends from the North of Ireland, but he would also appeal to his Ministerial Friends from England, Scotland and Wales. They stood as Unionists because they believed that the best, if not the only, way of securing good and just Government throughout Ireland was to bring to Irish questions that moderating influence of the opinion of Great Britain which should control both factions, who are bitterly opposed to each other; and, if they were to remain in their present position of command, if the Union was to be preserved, they would not be able to do it even with a majority of 150, unless they stood by this principle of using the power which they had got to secure justice between the two parties in 573 Ireland. They were right in endeavouring to restrain the turbulence of the South; but they should also endeavour to restrain the exclusive Orangeism of the North. They ought to control one as well as the other. They would fail in their professions and in the great work which they had taken in hand if they did not. He earnestly appealed to Unionist Members from England, Scotland and Wales to remember that this was an illustration of the great problem they had always got in hand—the necessity of carrying good Government into Ireland, in spite of the North as well as in spite of the South, and to overrule the prejudices of both. If they shrank from that because the Members for Belfast were united on the point, if they shrank from it because they found that the Toryism of Ireland did not like to see any of its privileges taken away, because a Conservative Town Council in Belfast could not bear the suggestion that a single Home Ruler should be among them—if they shrank from curbing that feeling and using their power to make this state of things right, they might depend upon it, however great might be their majority now, they would fail in the work they had undertaken.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
said that might be a convenient time for him to state the views of the Government with regard to this Bill. His right hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin had set before them what he described as an admitted evil in connection with the present position of affairs in Belfast. He himself admitted that condition of affairs to be an evil. At the present time he was aware that the Town Council was entirely in the hands of one party. That was an evil. He was aware, as the right hon. Gentleman had stated, that there was not a single officer of the Corporation who was otherwise than a Protestant or a Unionist. That was an evil in a city which had 70,000 Catholics and Nationalists among its population. When his right hon. Friend went on to ask whether they should not make an effort to put an end to that condition of things once for all in this Bill, he raised a question which the House would be bound to face some time, but which he did not think it was bound to consider in connection with a private Bill. Let him turn for a 574 moment to the form in which the Instruction had been submitted from the Chair. The hon. Member who moved the Instruction accepted certain Amendments which had been put down upon the Paper that day, the effect of which was to admit a direct reference to the Committee of the expediency of applying the principle of cumulative voting in Belfast. He was afraid that though the form of the Amendment was changed, its substance in reality was not altered, and the speeches which had been delivered that afternoon showed clearly that whether the Instruction was going to be carried in the form in which it originally stood, or in the form now put from the Chair, the real issue that would be raised before the Committee upstairs would be this issue of minority representation by means of the cumulative vote. He did not think it was necessary for him to go into the general question of the merits or demerits of the election to town councils by means of the cumulative vote. He did not think a proposal of that kind would be received with much favour in England or Scotland. In Ireland there was a good deal to be said for it, and the question assumed a different aspect. The principle was embodied in the Local Government Bill of 1892 introduced by the Unionist Party at that time. But, interesting and important as this question of applying the cumulative vote to the election of local authorities in Ireland might be, and necessary as it would be to face that question some time or other, the House, he repeated, should confine itself on the present occasion to considering whether it was a principle that ought to be left to a Committee upstairs to determine in its application to a private Bill. He could conceive that hon. Members might be perfectly convinced that representation of minorities by means of the cumulative vote was a principle that could be best adapted to the case of Belfast, and yet consider it their duty to vote against this Instruction. His right hon. Friend had dwelt on the fact that this was not a novel question, and in one sense, no doubt, it was not a novel question—that was to say that it had been raised in the House before; but it had never yet been decided. It had been introduced into a Bill which passed a 575 Second Reading, but which never got to the Committee stage. The principle, therefore, had never been accepted by Parliament as a whole as one proper to be applied in the election of Town Councils. It was, no doubt, a very important and a very large question, and the House had now to consider whether this principle, novel and important as it was, and wide-reaching as it was in its issues, should, or should not, be introduced by Instruction to a Private Bill Committee; and, secondly, whether it should, or should not be, introduced by an Instruction coming from a gentleman avowedly hostile to this Bill as a whole. On Friday last he listened with great attention to the arguments brought forward by hon. Members opposite against the Bill. The hon. and learned Member for Louth in particular dwelt upon various references in the Bill to cyclists and other matters. [Mr. T. M. HEALY: Matters of police.] The hon. and learned Member appealed to the House to reject the Bill on the ground that those provisions should be dealt with, not by a private, but by a public Bill, and he could not help thinking then that the hon. and learned Member would find that he was cutting the ground from under his feet when he came to argue this Instruction. On Friday the hon. and learned Gentleman blamed the Government for not straining at gnats, and now he denounced them for not swallowing camels.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
supposed the hon. and learned Gentleman considered the matters referred to in the Bill for administration by the local authority more important than this question of the application of the cumulative vote in Town Council Elections. His right hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin did, to a certain extent, argue this question; but he did not do full justice to the view opposed to his own. His right hon. Friend had, for a long time, as was well known, been an ardent worshipper at the shrine of minority representation, and it would be painful to him to lose an opportunity on this occasion of adding yet another small sacrifice to his idol. [Laughter.] But for this being a question in which his right hon. Friend was himself deeply 576 interested, and to which he attached so much importance, he would have been on the side of the Government that day, and would have argued that this was a matter which the House as a whole ought to decide in reference to a public Bill, and which should not be delegated to a Committee upstairs. The Instruction was moved by an hon. Member hostile to the Bill; and, if the Bill had contained a provision such as the hon. Member desired should be introduced by a Committee, then there would have been sufficient ground for the rejection of the Second Reading. But such provision had not been introduced by the promoters. They had followed the usual and normal course in a Bill of the kind, and had simply asked that the ordinary principle in vogue up to the present time should be applied in Belfast to the election of the City Council. Should the House now, at the instance of an opponent of the Bill, introduce an Instruction to the Committee to do that which, had the promoters included it in the first instance, would have justified the rejection of the Second Reading? He could not help thinking that that would have been a very improper course for the House to pursue. At the end of his speech his right hon. Friend used an argument he was sorry to hear from his lips. He taunted the Government with opposing this Instruction on the ground of timidity, and said the Government wore influenced by the feelings and prejudices of their friends in the North of Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman proceeded to state, and in impressive terms, what he conceived to be the duty of an Irish Government—to place itself between the Nationalist Members on the one side and the North of Ireland Members on the other. Nobody could have been Chief Secretary for Ireland for six months without feeling the difficulties his right hon. Friend had so luridly described. They were great difficulties, but the Government had hitherto endeavoured to lean neither to the one side nor the other—[Nationalist laughter]—to lean neither to the one side nor the other [cries of "Oh, oh" from Nationalist Members] and hold an even balance between parties. In resisting this Instruction he did so in accordance with precedent, acting in no way from timidity or from a desire to 577 please friends in the North and to do for them what he would not do under similar circumstances for hon. Gentlemen opposite. Such was the line of policy which the Government had throughout endeavoured to maintain; they were following that policy still in resisting this Instruction, and such was the line of policy they would follow to the end.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
The hon. and learned Member had asked him about the Parliamentary franchise. He stated, in reference to the Derry Bill, that in his judgment the promoters would have done well when altering the franchise to alter it to the Parliamentary franchise. But in the present Bill there was no suggestion to alter the franchise at all. It would, therefore, be asking a much larger thing of the promoters of the Bill that they, in introducing changes, should completely recast the municipal franchise of Belfast. In whose interest would such a change operate? He thought it would strengthen the Orange party of the city.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
said it was possible the hon. Member might have supported this in the interests of the Orange faction in Belfast, but he was not aware the hon. Member had such a tender compassion for the Orangemen. But that was not the idea of the hon. and learned Member for Louth; he did not recommend the reduction of the franchise in the interests of the Orangemen.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
said that if that were so, for his part, he could see no objection in principle in reducing the franchise. Whether it helped one side or the other was a matter of indifference to him, and sooner or later all those franchises would have to be reduced to a uniform level. But he submitted that it was a serious matter to ask the promoters of this Bill to undo at the present time all that had been done in connection with the Belfast franchise—that it would be unfair to require that because they had introduced a Bill dealing with 578 various local matters therefore they should go to the trouble and expense of changing the franchise unless some object had to be gained. But the object for which hon. Members opposite were contending by the Instruction—the adequate representation of Catholics and Protestants in Belfast—would not be affected by the adoption of this principle in elections there.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
said that however that might be no case had been shown for insisting that the question of the franchise should be touched. If the Government resisted the proposal it was because it raised issues that should not be left to be settled by a Committee upstairs.
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY (Montrose Burghs)
said every time the right hon. Gentleman got up to speak upon proposals made by hon. Members from the Benches opposite to him he showed how rapidly the policy with which he began his official career—the policy to kill Home Rule with kindness—was disappearing. [Laughter.] No Measure had been proposed or supported by hon. Members below the Gangway but the right hon. Gentleman found himself obliged to resist it, although he had just now assured the House that the right hon. Member for Bodmin had done him an injustices in attributing to him timidity or fear of his northern supporters. On all those occasions the right hon. Gentleman had been, he would not say forced, but biassed, against conclusions to which his own impartial judgment might have led him by the necessity of consulting what might be called the sinister interests in Ireland. He could not conceive a more gratuitous concession to this Northern prejudice and passion than the attitude which the right hon. Gentleman was taking up with reference to this not very fundamental or far-reaching affair. But just because it was not a wide and far-reaching proposal the more easily might the right hon. Gentleman have met the views and the demands of the large majority of Irish representatives, and resist for once the prejudice and passion of the Northern Protestant representatives. He had no 579 desire whatever to speak in any uncharitable tone of those gentlemen. He had had his own difficulties before now with them, and he thought they would do him the justice to say that when he was Chief Secretary he never yielded to his supporters and friends when he thought their demands were unfair to hon. Gentlemen opposite. He could have wished the right hon. Gentleman had shown the same firmness towards the prejudice of his Northern supporters which, he ventured to say without an excess of complacency, he showed more than once in dealing with his friends below the Gangway. He knew very well that when the right hon. Gentleman announced his policy of killing Home Rule with kindness he meant it. He knew that he was going over to Ireland with a thorough desire to do all that the most enlightened Irish patriot could do or desire him to do, but he knew very well that he would not have been a month in Dublin Castle before he would feel slowly, but irresistibly, surging in upon him all the flood of prejudice and passion and old ascendency tradition which was just as strong in Ireland in a certain section of Irishmen now as it was 20, 30, or 50 years ago. He regretted it. He should have liked, after the verdict of the country at the last election upon one issue or another, to see the experiment tried by a strong Unionist Government of meeting, if possible, Irish demands and doing the best that could be done to avoid what Gentlemen opposite would have thought a great calamity. But he was well aware that the experiment was a hopeless one from the first, and every speech that he had had the privilege of hearing from the Chief Secretary showed that he was going to be dragged down into the same hopeless rut in which Unionist and Liberal Governments too hitherto had had to make their way and with so little success. [Cheers.] If he were speaking merely as a Home Ruler he should certainly be glad that the Chief Secretary had taken the view that he had done. The right hon. Gentleman had given no answer, it seemed to him, to the appeal of his right hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin. The other day the Chief Secretary warned them on that side of the House to distinguish between the attitude taken up by the Conservative section 580 of the Unionists and that taken up by the Liberal Unionists. [Nationalist cheers.] They were having another admonition that afternoon in the same direction. The Member for Bodmin spoke as a true and enlightened Unionist ought to speak, in his judgment. That right hon. Gentleman said, "Meet Ireland where you can"; and what was the Chief Secretary's answer? His answer, in substance, was that the real issue of this Instruction was whether a Committee should or should not decide that the cumulative vote should be introduced in this special case. He would remind the Chief Secretary that that was not a really accurate definition of the Instruction as it now stood. If it were a positive, a mandatory instruction to introduce the cumulative vote, he should have had some difficulty in supporting it. His right hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin and he had for a long time differed upon this great subject; but he had always gone so far with him as to admit that, if there was a set of social circumstances which would justify trying the experiment of the cumulative vote or some other form of minority representation, Ireland, either in part or as a whole, represented the field and the area in which such an experiment might advantageously be tried. But that was not the real issue. The Instruction directed the Committee to consider, not the propriety of introducing the cumulative vote, but of discovering whether by any means, the cumulative vote or otherwise, they could meet the evil which the Chief Secretary himself very candidly admitted. The right hon. Gentleman admitted it, but if they wanted to hear the view of the right hon. Gentleman's friends, it came from the hon. Member for South Belfast. The Chief Secretary said—I admit it is a great evil that there should be no Catholic on the Town Council of Belfast and no Catholic employé in the service of that Council;but that honest supporter of his called out "I do not admit it!" [Nationalist Cheers.] He would ask Gentlemen opposite to consider whether, at the beginning of a new Parliament and at the opening of a new Irish Policy, they were going to allow themselves to be 581 drawn into a resistance of every Irish demand that came from below the Gangway by Gentlemen like the hon. Member for South Belfast, who saw no evil in the total exclusion of men of a particular religious communion from anything like municipal power. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin pointed out that the Instruction was permissive; and, secondly, what he valued greatly as coming from a Member of this House with his authority, the importance of this House accustoming itself to allowing municipalities and local governing bodies to try experiments of all kinds and in all subjects. This was a very small subject, and if the House, guided by the Chief Secretary, rejected the proposal, they were embarking upon a policy which would undoubtedly, as the Member for Bodmin urged, before the end of this Parliament, overthrow the whole foundations upon which hon. Gentlemen opposite hoped, and from a certain point of view reasonably hoped, to erect the structure of a stable and beneficent policy in Ireland. He regretted sincerely the line taken by the Chief Secretary. It would not become him to use the language which the hon. Member for Bodmin used when he said that the professions with which the Government majority was gained, in respect of Irish affairs, were false professions. [Ministerial cries of "No!"] The right hon. Member for Bodmin said that the refusal of this Instruction would be an indication that the professions which had been made of a desire to meet Irish feeling, Irish demands, and Irish evils, where opportunity arose, were false professions.
§ MR. COURTNEY
I did not use language of that kind. [Cheers.] I appealed to my hon. Friends about me to remember the line they took, and to recognise that in this case they were called upon to carry it out by granting the Instruction.
§ MR. MORLEY
said, he could not see the slightest difference between what he imputed to the right hon. Gentleman and what the right hon. Gentleman admitted he intended to say. This was a test case of whether they were going to make any concession whatever to Irish demands; and whether, though they would not grant the greater demand, they were going to allow localities to try experiments; or whether they 582 were going to surrender themselves to the old passion and prejudice which had brought Irish government to its present miserable condition. [Nationalist cheers.]
§ SIR JOHN LUBBOCK (London University)
said, the Chief Secretary stated he saw no difference between the instruction as it originally stood and as the hon. Member moved it. He could not agree with his right hon. Friend. He certainly regarded the cumulative voting as a very valuable system of representation, but he thought the hon. Member had been very wisely advised in moving the Instruction in the amended form, because he believed that, when the Bill went before the Committee, inquiry might show other systems equally or even more desirable. He very much wished that this matter was to be decided by the votes of the hon. Members who had heard the discussion, because he should like to appeal to them and ask them whether the arguments of his right hon. Friend, the Chief Secretary were really an answer to the arguments brought forward by hon. Members on the other side and by his right hon. friend the Member for Bodmin. The Chief Secretary admitted the evil, then why should he not try to remove it? He understood the hon. Member for Derry to pledge himself that, when a similar Bill came forward for any other part of Ireland, he would suppor at similar Instruction. The hon. Member for Longford did the same, and he presumed they spoke for the hon. Gentlemen on those Benches. They would thus establish a principle which would be adopted wherever it was required, and which would be gradually extended over the whole of Ireland. The Chief Secretary said it would be undesirable to do so in this case because it came from an opponent of the Bill. But surely they must deal with the Instruction, not with reference to the source from which it proceeded, but with reference to what the effect would be on the Measure. Then he went on to say that the hon. Member for Longford, when this Bill was last before the House, argued that these were changes which ought to be made by a Public Bill. That was perfectly true. That was the contention of the hon. Member, but the House decided against him. The House decided that this was a question which should be 583 decided by a Private Bill. He thought there was a great deal to be said for moving in this matter carefully and cautiously, and for trying the experiment, if it was an experiment, in some particular place before they applied it over the whole country. He had no doubt in his own mind that the experiment was one which would succeed. What had they seen in Switzerland within the last two or three years? This proposal was introduced into the Canton of Ticino, very much for the same reasons that had been advocated by hon. Gentlemen opposite. It had worked there to the general satisfaction of the people, and it had worked so well that it had been extended to the Cantons of Geneva, Neufchatel, Zug and Basle, and probably would be adopted in other places in Switzerland also. Surely then it would not be wrong to try it here also. What they were asked to do was to give the Committee power to look into the matter and then decide. He advocated the institution on the grounds that minorities should have a fair hearing. As long as municipal elections were conducted in Ireland on the present system they would have the people divided into two hostile camps, but if this Instruction were passed and acted upon by the Committee it would do something to break down these unfortunate differences which existed, and help to secure the election of men who would look upon municipal government from an administrative, and not merely from a political or religious point of View
§ MR. STUART-WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam),
as an old friend of proportional representation, was interested in this matter to see what prospects they had of tolerance and reciprocity in other parts of Ireland. He reminded the House that when the Unionists in 1893 proposed an Amendment to introduce into the Home Rule Bill a system of minority representation, under the Home Rule Government, it was resisted by Mr. Gladstone on the ground, amongst others, that it would not do to apply to Ireland a system that had been rejected for the rest of the United Kingdom, and it was outvoted by a majority which included the whole strength of the Nationalist and Irish Party.
§ MR. G. C. T. BARTLEY (Islington, N.),
in supporting the Instruction, said that he 584 had been returned on the idea that they were to do their utmost to assimilate in every possible way the municipal arrangements of Ireland with those of England, and to endeavour to do away with every sort of injustice and anomaly in Ireland. In England such a condition of things as existed in Belfast would be considered unfair, unjust and un-English, for it was not disputed that there was no possibility of the 70,000 out of the 250,000 of the population having any voice in the management of that great city. If there was any possible way of getting rid of that anomaly it ought to be adopted, for he regarded it as a serious evil. He agreed that it ought not to be done by a private Bill, but they had waited 10 years for a public Bill and he thought they were bound, when an opportunity occurred in that informal way, to remove an injustice which was recognised by everybody and even by the Chief Secretary himself. He should certainly vote for the Instruction because it was reasonable and fair, for it was monstrous to talk so much about injustice to Ireland and to maintain such an outrageous anomaly. He did not believe it would change the representation in Belfast, while it would remove an injustice which would not be tolerated in England for a single month. [Cheers.]
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER (Belfast, W.)
said, he did not want to continue the Debate, but desired to make some reply to the somewhat violent attack made upon him by the right hon. Member for Bodmin. He was supposed to have resorted to most unsparing sophistry, and a line of argument had been imputed to him which was not one upon which he relied, or asked the House to rely upon. The right hon. Gentleman charged him with extraordinary inconsistency in avowing himself an advocate of a particular form of voting, and then objecting to its application to Belfast. His reply was this—he looked to what was existing in other parts of Ireland, and they knew what Belfast was. They believed it to be a centre of good government and of loyalty in the North of Ireland. It might be said that the means which had been used to produce that result were such as they did not want to continue. He admitted it, and the Bill proposed to alter them; but he was not blind to the result which had been 585 attained. The hon. Member for the Scotland Ward Division of Liverpool charged him with inconsistency on the ground that he had said he did not believe that the admission of these new elements into the Corporation of Belfast would be an advantage, and yet that, holding that belief, he still advocated their admission. For his own part, he thought it was most important that the Nationalists should be heard. He did not regard the charge of inconsistency as any charge at all. He had the facts regarding the city of Limerick, although the right hon. Gentleman said he could not deny them. Perhaps he could not, but he was going to try. He found that in the city of Limerick at the present moment there was one Protestant on the Corporation, and he happened to be a Separatist. Out of all the officials of the Corporation there were only three who were Protestants.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
said, that what he wanted to point out was that if they were to alter the whole constitution of one great town in Ireland, they must, in common fairness, carry out that principle, and apply it to all the other great towns. He thought it was fair to demand that while they were diminishing safeguards to good government in one part, they should establish safeguards to government in other parts, and he, and those who supported his view, were consistent in asking that what was done in one town should be done in other towns. If the right hon. Gentleman would give him his assistance in proposing to extend this Amendment to other towns in Ireland, he would gladly prove his consistency by doing his best to carry it into operation. The hon. Member for Sheffield was quite correct when he said that the same proposition, to apply the principle of proportional voting to the whole of Ireland, was rejected unanimously by the Party to which the late Chief Secretary belonged.
§ MR. J. MORLEY
said, he would remind the hon. Member that he had said he did not like cumulative voting at all.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
said, there was in the mind of the House some proposal for giving to Belfast proportional 586 representation, and he thought, therefore, the argument would hold good. He again complained of having been painted in black colours and being represented as some prejudiced person who desired to see every evil institution continued in the North of Ireland. On the contrary, they were now proposing a Bill to remedy what was agreed to be an undesirable state of things, and all he desired now to do was to protest against the charges of inconsistency and intolerance which had been made against him.
§ MR. S. YOUNG (Cavan, E.)
said that he thought he ought to know more about his native town than the hon. Member who had just sat down, and he just wanted to make one or two suggestions. He would admit at once that there were a good many good things to be said about the Town Council of Belfast. He believed that the affairs in the past had been well managed, and he would say further that a Bill was required for the extension of the boundaries of that rapidly growing city. His difficulty was to find a remedy for the state of feeling which existed in Belfast, and he thought that remedy would lie very much in a division of the wards. There were two systems of dividing wards, one from the centre to the circumference, and the other of a division of the centre of the city, and then the wards to be adjusted outside of the centre. He was not sure that he had confidence in Dublin Castle notwithstanding the good intentions of the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and he was afraid that any appointment from Dublin Castle, or from the Chief Secretary, would not be acceptable to the Belfast people who were in the minority if they had anything to do with the division, and, therefore, he would suggest that the House should itself appoint an officer to arrange the wards in Belfast.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! There is nothing about the division of the wards in this Instruction. It only relates to the franchise and the present mode of election.
§ MR. JOHNSTON
desired to say a few words upon the patriotic aspect of the question taken up by the hon. and learned Member for North Louth. He was sure he would not decline to acknowledge the Irish Catholic, which, not very long since had a series of articles proposing a run on the Belfast banks, unless the Roman Catholic claims were conceded.
§ MR. JOHNSTON
said that the proprietor or editor was very anxious that he should hear of it, for the newspaper was sent to him regularly with the articles marked in blue pencil. After reading those articles, they might be pardoned if they doubted the patriotism and the purity of their motives when they claimed a share in the representation. Twenty-seven years ago, when he first sat as Member for Belfast he advocated the assimilation of the municipal and parliamentary franchise, and he believed he had the honour of being supported at one time by Mr. Parnell, and certain supporters of his Party in Belfast. Personally, he had always endeavoured to do what was right in such matters apart from questions of Party, but those on the opposite side never lost an opportunity of vilifying Belfast. ["No, no!"] At one time there was a conspiracy to boycott its linen trade, and America was asked to join the patriotic Irish in boycotting the trade, which, like everything else that was good, was called the ''Orange Linen Trade." He was not ashamed of being an Orangeman, and thought they would even be endorsed by the Member for North Louth, if he properly inquired into the principles of the Orangemen, for they embraced toleration for Roman Catholics. Those principles had been misrepresented time after time, and he was afraid that those misrepresentations had operated to some extent on the minds of Members on the Conservative side of the House. This Corporation, of which they had heard such evil spoken, had made miles on miles of docks and miles on miles of wharves, and it had made a channel from the town to the deep sea. He would ask the House to leave in the hands of the city council the charge which it had so well performed hitherto, 588 and not interfere with this prosperous and progressive city, whose prosperity, he believed, was largely due to its Protestantism.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND (Clare, E.)
said the hon. Member was completely wrong as to the opinion held as to the prosperity of Belfast by the great majority of Irishmen. He was opposed to the political opinions held by the representatives of Belfast, but in spite of that the Irish people, Nationalists and Catholics, were exceedingly proud of the prosperous position which Belfast had attained. If he were abroad he should be one of the first to boast of the prosperous state of Belfast if the question should arise—["hear, hear!"]—and the enormous strides it had made. All they wished was that other cities had the same advantages and the same care as was lavished on Belfast.
§ MR. JOHNSTON
Will the hon. Member specify any benefit which Belfast had ever received from the Government?
§ MR. W. REDMOND
said he should not, but it was awfully hard. [Laughter.] The speech of the hon. Member appeared to him to exhibit in the most perfect manner the spirit of exclusiveness to which they objected. The hon. Member said—he did not know whether he meant to be insulting, but possibly not—that the addition of any Catholics to the Belfast Committee would not tend towards the good government, or help the city in any way. That was the sneering spirit to which they objected—that the addition of a dozen men who were Roman Catholics was not calculated to tend towards good government. The hon. Member for West Belfast was totally wrong in the contrast which he drew between Belfast and other corporate cities in Ireland. If the hon. Member could point out in the cities of Limerick, Cork or Waterford, where the people were largely Catholic, that the same state of affairs existed as in Belfast, he would as strongly protest against it as he 589 did in the case of Belfast. Protestants were not excluded. It was quite the contrary. In Belfast and Derry there was not a single Catholic representative, but in the southern corporations it was well known that there were many Protestants to be found. In many cases Catholics had shown their toleration by electing many Protestants to seats in that House. ["Hear, hear!"] The Chief Secretary said he was in favour of extending the franchise in Belfast and Derry—["no!'']—but he knew very well that the franchise could not be extended if this Instruction was rejected. It did his heart good to hear the speeches of Unionist Members opposite. It was purely a local Irish question. It did not affect the Union in the slightest degree. It did not affect the integrity of the Empire or separation, and they only asked for that which would not be denied for a moment to any British city, or any city in any part of the world.
§ SIR THOMAS LEA
thought the Instruction would put a heavy load on the Committee, by asking it to deal with a question which the House itself should decide. He did not know who the Members were that would serve on this Committee, but they would be bound to give a negative Report on this question. His right hon. Friend said, let them do justice to the majority of the Irish representatives on this matter, but the question arose, was it just to make this experiment in Belfast. They declined to do that, and rather than do it they might possibly drop their Bill. By passing the Instruction, the House would put a great responsibility on the Committee upstairs, and it would do an injustice to the citizens of Belfast.
§ MR. JOHN DILLON (Mayo, E.)
said, the hon. Baronet opposite had argued that this proposal should not be made in connection with a private Bill. The difficulty the Irish Members laboured under was that they had been waiting for many years to get such grievances remedied by public Bills, and they despaired of doing so. The Chief Secretary admitted the grievance and the evil; but the hon. Member for South Belfast denied that it was an evil, and he thus spoke the true sentiments of the controlling faction. The Chief Secretary said the remedy ought to be applied by public Bill. Seven years ago they received 590 a solemn pledge from the then Leader of the Unionist Party in the House that the whole question of local self-government for Ireland would be dealt with at the same time as it was for England; but Ireland was now further from the time of the question being dealt with than it was eight years ago. Therefore, Irish Members were justified in attempting to deal with it in any way they could. If, as the Chief Secretary said, the hon. and learned Member for North Louth was cutting the ground from under his feet when he objected to certain provisions dealing with the police and change of venue, because they ought not to be inserted in a Private Bill, did not the right hon. Gentleman see that he cut the ground from under his own feet when he insisted on reading the Bill a Second time with these provisions in it? When the right hon. Gentleman spoke of a gnat and a camel, he made an unreasonable and absurd comparison, because the provisions of the Bill would reverse the whole public policy of the House with regard to the control of the police. This was a question which it was infinitely more improper to introduce into a Private Bill. Therefore there was not the least force in the argument that the Committee ought not to be asked to consider the question raised by the Instruction. He was quite prepared to admit that it would be better to settle all such questions by Public Bill if they could get one; but the Chief Secretary knew well that Irish Members could not introduce one with any chance of its making progress, and that the discussion of a Private Bill afforded the only opportunity they had of raising the question. The Chief Secretary claimed that he had resolutely and firmly preserved an attitude of impartiality between what he called the two factions; but the Nationalist Members did not admit this; they rather held that, before the meeting of Parliament and since, on every occasion that opportunity offered, he had shown an inclination to run counter to the wishes of the great majority of the people of Ireland. And now, while he admitted the existence of a grievance as to which a section of his Party urged inquiry, once more he declined, for no reason that would hold water, but simply because the Members for Belfast and others sitting behind him solidly opposed 591 this Instruction, to consider a remedy, and on the part of the Government he resisted and would defeat this Instruction. All that the Nationalist Members could do was to appeal to Ministerialists to listen to the voice of the hon. Member for Bodmin rather than to the voice of the Leader of the House.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 164; Noes, 219.—(Division List, No. 36).