HC Deb 11 March 1896 vol 38 cc661-72

MR. VESEY KNOX (Londonderry) rose to move:— That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Londonderry Improvement Bill to inquire into the present mode of election of aldermen and councillors of the city, and whether it in expedient to modify or alter the law as to such mode of election, and, if they think fit, to make provision in the Bill for the same. He said he was encouraged, by the very remarkable result of the Division yesterday on a similar Bill, to bring before the attention of the House what he believed to be the only practical remedy for the injustice under which the Catholics of Derry and Belfast suffered. True, it might be said that the House, having rejected the Instruction moved in reference to the Belfast Bill, would not be likely to come to a different conclusion in connection with the Derry Bill; but he thought there were some differences in the cases, which might possibly, having regard to the very remarkable Division yesterday, and the remarkable speech from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Courtney),—which might induce the House to take a different view of the Motion he would now submit. The Instruction to the Committee on the Belfast Bill was brought forward by the Nationalist Members and approved by the Members for Belfast, and he could quite understand that hon. Members opposite would pay more attention to the unanimous opinion of the Belfast Members upon a Belfast question, and no doubt many Members took the view that, even though it appeared that the Catholic population of Belfast were under an injustice in the matter of civic representation, yet it would be a very strong thing to go against the unanimous opinion of the four Members for the City of Belfast upon a merely local matter. In the present case the circumstances were directly opposite. Derry was a smaller constituency, and returned one Member only to Parliament, and he, as the Member for Derry, brought forward this Instruction. Therefore, in supporting this Instruction, as he trusted hon. Members opposite would, they would not be going against the opinion of Derry expressed in a Constitutional way by its Parliamentary representative. In the second place, the circumstances of Derry were more remarkable. In Derry the Catholics were not in a minority; they were a majority of the population. On the previous day, in moving the Instruction on the Belfast Bill, he pledged himself that, when occasion should arise, and in cases where Catholics and Nationalists were in a majority, he would take precisely the same course as that he recommended in the Belfast case, where Catholics were in a minority. Equally for the north and the south he demanded the cumulative vote in municipal elections, and he took this, the first possible opportunity, to redeem the pledge he had given. The Catholics of Derry were a majority of the population, nevertheless, he desired by the Instruction to give the Committee the power to consider it best in Derry to apply a principle which would insure fairness in the representation of all sections of the people. So hon. Members would see that, in supporting the Instruction they would not be going against the interests of their own friends or against any principle to which they were pledged. The circumstances of Derry furnished an argument to show that the ward system was not in many cases, where the population was strongly divided in opinion, of much use as providing adequate representation of the views of the people. The Catholic majority in Derry was 3,500, or, on the population, 10 per cent. over the Protestants. The Catholic vote on the Parliamentary Franchise was, he believed, at the moment in a minority, but this was a state of things not likely to last, and in all probability the Parliamentary Franchise would soon show the same result as the Census—that the Catholics had a majority over the Protestants. At present the city was divided into three wards. In one ward opinion, was certainly Catholic, in another it was Protestant, and in the third ward there was a conflict of opinion, and it was argued by Protestants, with considerable force, that in all probability the Catholics had a majority there. On this point he thought the Protestants had a case, and upon the three wards Catholics would have rather more than their fair proportion of representation, and that was a point he urged last year in Debate on the Municipal Franchise Bill. But the Catholics did not want to have, and did not claim to have more than their fair proportion, and would be perfectly content to have the cumulative system, to secure for them fair representation. Assembled in public meeting they had passed a resolution to that effect. He was not now stating merely his own views, for the people had pledged themselves to the principle he advocated. On the other hand, take the effect of the proposals in the Bill. The Bill proposed division into five wards. In the previous day's Debate there was a little conflict of opinion as to how much, under that system, Catholic representation would secure. Since then he had looked into the subject more carefully, and the facts were these. One ward would be certainly Catholic by a large majority; in three would certainly be a considerable Protestant majority, and he fifth ward would be doubtful. According to the figures of the revision, as Published in a Conservative paper, the Protestants would have a majority, and according to the figures of the last revision, when the Catholics won a considerable municipal victory, and the circumstances excited considerable attention in Ireland, the Catholics would have a majority; but they could not be in any way certain. Under this system of ward divisions, they might actually have the extraordinary result that, with a broad and generous Parliamentary franchise, the majority of the population would only return one-fifth of the Corporation. This was enough to show that the ward system was not in itself very satisfactory. He did not wish to unduly prolong the discussion on the matter; but he would call attention to the terms of the Instruction, because he thought that yesterday there was some little confusion as to whether the House would or would not be pledged to the principle of the cumulative vote. The words upon the Paper were similar to those of the Instruction in reference to the Belfast Bill in the form in which it was moved, and not as it stood on the Notice Paper. The proposal he thought was a reasonable proposal. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Courtney), in the remarkable speech delivered on the previous day, said the House was too chary about trying experiments. He could not conceive a better field—limited though it was—for this experiment than the city of Derry. There was no place in the world where politics were more keen than Derry, and, indeed, that had been the state of things in Derry for three centuries. There was no place where opinion was more clear cut and definite, and where the whole population were more given to political thought. The experiment could not be introduced under more favourable circumstances than in Derry, and he, as a Nationalist, would be glad if it was first tried at the instance of a Catholic majority—a Catholic majority hitherto debarred from all representation, but who, when they saw the possibility of getting their full representation, and even of getting a fuller representation than they were entitled to, said they did not want any more than their just numerical rights. Under the circumstances the Motion ought to commend itself to many hon. Members on either side of the House. He begged to move the Instruction standing in his name.

MR. J. P. FARRELL (Cavan, W.)

said, that in rising to second the Motion he did not profess to have a very intimate knowledge of the exact condition of things in the Derry Council, but he certainly thought that a strong case had been made out for the Instruction. Yesterday the House rejected a similar Instruction, moved for the protection of the Catholic minority in Belfast. Here the House were asked to deal with a case in which the Protestants were in a minority, and it would be difficult for hon. Members who yesterday voted under strong feeling on the subject, to go into the Lobby against the present Instruction. In speeches made during the Debate on the subject in reference to Belfast, there had been a great deal of what he might call Pharasaical cant about toleration and intolerance, and the danger of allowing Catholics an undue share in civic representation, but the Instruction offered a simple way of meeting all difficulties. There were towns in the south and west of Ireland where there was the strongest evidence of toleration shown towards Protestant opinion, though the Catholic populations were in an overwhelming majority. In the case of the Boyle township, quite recently, in a municipal election which took place, four Protestant Town Councillors were returned at the head of the poll, although the overwhelming mass of the electors on the occasion were Roman Catholics. In the case of the borough of Sligo, it was a well-known fact that the Protestants had more than their due share of representation. He might nay the same of Galway and of Athlone, the Chairman of the Town Council of the latter place, Mr. Baily, being a Protestant. The same toleration was also shown by the town of Cavan. For these reasons he appealed to hon. Members opposite to abandon their pugnacious attitude to any tolerance to the Catholics. It was rather strange, in these days of the Nineteenth Century, that the old Orange flag should be constantly flaunted in their faces as a proof of the desire of even a strong Unionist Government to do justice between the different classes in Ireland. He listened the previous day with the greatest possible attention and pleasure to the eloquent and able appeal of the right hon. Member for Bodmin on this question. He thought if the views the right hon. Gentleman expressed had been accepted in the good faith in which they were tendered to the Chief Secretary, it would have done much to smooth the path of the latter's administration in Ireland, and for his part he could not but regret that the right hon. Member for Leeds saw his way to reject the compromise put forward by the hon. Member for Bodmin, that rejection being made in language uncalled for and unnecessary, and which left a disagreeable impression on the minds of the Irish Members. He had no doubt the right hon. Gentleman found it difficult to reconcile friends and supporters on his own side of the House to his views of toleration to the Catholic citizens of Ireland, but it would reflect the greatest credit upon him if he saw his way, as did the late Liberal Chief Secretary, to stand on his own ground in this case, and even at the risk of offending some of his friends, to do justice to the Catholics of Derry and Belfast. It was a monstrous and intolerable state of things that in these days of enlightenment and civilisation, in one case a large population comprising one-fifth of the whole, and in the other case a clear majority, should have no share in the municipal representation or in the emoluments attached to their civic offices. He hoped that the Unionist Government, which came into office with professions of tolerance, would treat this matter in a broad and liberal spirit, and accept the Instruction, of his hon. Friend, the Member for Derry city.

SIR THOMAS LEA (Londonderry, S.)

said, he did not wish to repeat what he said yesterday, but he hoped they would be able to come to some harmonious conclusion in regard to this matter. He was not locally interested in this Bill; he had simply taken charge of it. But after various consultations, he had obtained from the promoters of the Bill terms which he hoped the hon. Member for Derry would be able to accept, and he hoped they would go before the Committee upstairs without any Party spirit. He would not say one word to ruffle the hon. Member's feelings. The hon. Member said his great wish was that the Catholics of Derry should be represented on the Corporation of Derry. The Chief Secretary yesterday quoted the figures in regard to the population of Derry, and the majority on both sides. He (Sir T. Lea) admitted that the Roman Catholics had a majority of the inhabitants of Derry; but according to the figures in the petition, presented by the hon. Member's own party, there existed at the present moment in the city of Derry a Protestant Parliamentary electorate of 2,126, and a Catholic electorate of 2,121. The figures were very even, but even on the Catholics' own showing, the Protestants had a slight advantage. Then, according to the rating of the city, which was also an important matter in the spending of the money, the Protestants paid seven-tenths of the rates, and the Catholics three-tenths of the whole.


asked if provision was made in the calculation for cases in which the landlord paid the rates?


I do not think it is shown.

MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)

The Protestant pays out of the Catholic's pocket.


said he was speaking only from what appeared in the rate book. Everybody knew that the large buildings in Derry were owned by Protestant manufacturers to a very large extent; therefore he thought it would be found correct that seven-tenths of the rates were paid by Protestants. But he did not want to press this point, and he only mentioned it to show that the Catholic majority was not so large as the hon. Member sought to make out. This Bill was very important for the sanitary well-being of the city of Derry and for the finances of the city. They wanted to save a large amount of money by spreading the loans over a greater number of years than they were able to do at the present, and also by obtaining the money at a lower rate of interest. He was asked yesterday if he was prepared to make any statement with regard to the Parliamentary franchise. He said he was of opinion the franchise should be a Parliamentary franchise, and not a £4 franchise. He also admitted that he was not authorised to make that statement, because the Committee of the Corporation of Derry thought it ought to be settled by the Committee upstairs; but in deference to the opinion expressed by the Chief Secretary and himself, the Corproation agreed that the Committee upstairs should, in the Bill, make it a Parliamentary franchise. He considered that this was an important point, and would meet the wishes of hon. Members opposite.


Is that the Parliamentary franchise plus women?


said, he had no authority to include women, and he understood from the hon. Member for Derry that neither he nor the Unionists cared very much about that question; therefore it would not be pressed. The hon. Member for Derry had said the wards were so framed that they would return Unionist majorities. It had also been stated that there was only one ward which was certain to return Catholics. Now he had gone through the figures in this petition, and there were undoubtedly two wards out of the five which would return Catholics, and therefore the whole increase of these 16 members to be added to the Corporation would be given to the Catholics. The Catholics had majorities according to their own figures, and they knew very well that they would poll closer than the Protestants. In order to meet the wishes of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and in order to make the proceedings before the Committee as harmonious as possible, he was willing to make one further concession. The Committee of the Corporation was willing to say that while the wards remained the same—namely, five, and while they thought the polling districts the best basis for these wards, they were willing that the Committee upstairs should have the power to deal with the question of wards and the demarcations. He believed the Committee had the power to consider the matter already, but they would now do so with the consent of the promoters of the Bill, which was a great point. He trusted that the hon. Members opposite would see their way to meet him in these matters, and he hoped they would not press the Instruction.


said, that with regard to the Instruction, his hon. Friend had moved it simply because when they proposed it in the case of Belfast the previous day, they were taunted that, though moving it in the case of Belfast, wherever Catholics were in a majority, they did not move a similar Instruction. That was the reason of their moving it that day. He was, however, glad to see the spirit which had been shown by the hon. Baronet (Sir Thomas Lea). There was a point to which he did like to refer. He had himself always supported the extension of the suffrage to women, and in the case of Derry he thought, if such an extension were granted, it would result in favour of the Protestants, because naturally being better off than the Catholics, they would have more persons on the register. The franchise had been already granted to women in Belfast, although he did not know whether they went to the poll or not. He was quite sure there were advocates of women suffrage in the House who might perhaps endeavour to express their views in a stronger manner than he had done. With regard to the other matter, the hon. Baronet was quite correct in saying that the Committee to which this Bill would be referred would have ample power to deal with the entire question. It was something, however, to know from the hon. Baronet himself, that he concurred in the Parliamentary franchise. His hon. Friend the Member for North Monaghan (Mr. Macaleese), in the Instruction which he had placed on the Paper, had taken the point that there was no precedent in England for the lodger, as such, enjoying the Municipal franchise. They had the Parliamentary, but not the Municipal suffrage. Speaking for himself, although the case of the Derry lodgers was an extraordinary one, he did not object to a wider suffrage. The case of a student who was a resident for nine months at Belfast, attending the Queen's College there, and who swore he was paying his father £20 a year for rent, had left rather an unpleasant taste in the mouths of the people of Derry ["Hear, hear!"]; and there were a number of other cases, of which the Attorney General for Ireland would recollect some, which made Derry a rather specialised community, as anyone would see who examined the rating of lodgers in Derry. He did not think that it would be fair to Debate the question in that House at that time, but at the same time the hon. Baronet seemed to think he was making them a present of something handsome when he said he would give the Catholics two out of the five wards, the Catholics being in a majority in those wards. The hon. Baronet seemed to think that it was the Protestants who paid the most of the rates, and that they had the best houses and shops. He (Mr. Healy) wondered whether the shareholders of limited liability companies were all Protestants. Had the hon. Baronet made a classification of the shareholders? ["Hear, hear!"] It was not because the Protestants paid most of the rates that the rates came out of their pockets. ["Hear, hear!"] The contention was an absurd one. It had always been recognised that the man paid the rates who lived in the house, though the landlord might nominally pay them. ["Hear, hear!"] They did not bind themselves to accept the five wards as sufficient representation for the Derry Catholics, and they thought the suggestion that the five should follow the polling districts most unsafe, seeing that the Corporation had full power to shift these polling districts any moment they pleased. The polling districts were shifting areas which could at any moment be changed, and it was proposed to stereotype these new wards and that they should accept them. He (Mr. Healy), however, understood this matter would be fully threshed out before the Committee, but he should like to trace the position in which the question came before the Committee. The Corporation representing the so-called Protestants would come before that Committee equipped out of the money of the rates, to instruct English counsel, and with the machinery of civic Government at their backs; whereas the Catholics would come at their own expense, instruct counsel to plead their cause, and bring their witnesses a distance of 500 miles. That was their idea of fair play and equality. But they had got some length towards a settlement of this question, and he hoped that when they arrived at the last stage of the Bill, and when the Belfast Bill came back, the analogy would be sufficient to enable the Chief Secretary to accept, in regard to the Provisional Order Bill for Armagh, of which the Attorney General had given notice, a provision also assimilating the Municipal to the Parliamentary Franchise.

MR. W. JOHNSTON (Belfast, S.)

said, that 27 years ago, when he first had the honour of representing Belfast, he advocated the assimilation of the Municipal and Parliamentary Franchise, and he was glad that the principle had now been accepted by the hon. Baronet who had charge of the Bill. He agreed with the hon. Member for North Louth, that it was extremely desirable that women should be included in the Franchise. The women of Belfast some years ago obtained the Municipal Franchise, and he did not see why the women of Derry should be placed in an inferior position. He hoped the House would agree to make the Municipal Franchise the same as the Parliamentary Franchise, and that by means of the former, the women of Derry would take the same interest in social and sanitary reforms that the women of Belfast had done.


said, that as the hon. Baronet the Member for South Derry (Sir T. Lea) had made an appeal to him, perhaps, by leave of the House, he might say a few words as to the various points he brought forward as to the Franchise. He thought that on the whole this had better take the form of the Parliamentary Franchise. With regard to the revision of the voters' lists he presumed that, if there was any doubt, no opposition would be raised to an Instruction being given which would give the Committee power to assimilate the Parliamentary Franchise, as to revision, including an appeal from the revising Barristers. The present Municipal Appeal was expensive, and it was desirable that the same law should prevail as to both lists. There might be some doubt felt by the Committee afterwards. He did not express an opinion whether it would be within their authority to provide for it. With regard to the Lodger Franchise he urged that the English precedent should be followed. It would be a pity if they took away the rating qualification and put in another of a partial kind in the case of lodgers. As to giving the Franchise to women, he had no strong view one way or the other. The difficulties felt by the Derry Corporation and himself were chiefly difficulties of detail in framing the provision in the Bill. He did not think there would be any fight on that question. As to the wards, he was sure there would be a difficulty, that probably the division into five wards would not be accepted by the Committee. To meet the hon. Baronet the Member for South Derry, he would place before him a scheme which would give three wards to each side. In that way they might come to an arrangement by which a prolonged fight would be avoided. It would be impossible to avoid a fight if the five wards were adhered to. With reference to the cumulative vote, as a matter of principle, he would ask the House to divide on the Instructions, as after the position he took up yesterday, he was almost bound to do so.

MR. LEONARD COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)

said, that all that was wanted was to enable the Committee to do that which they would be unable to do without an Instruction. They wanted some authority to deal with the Parliamentary franchise, and if the hon. Member for Louth, and the hon. Baronet the Member for South Derry would assent to the Second Instruction, that would give the Committee every authority to deal with all the matters that had been before the House.


said, that under the circumstances he would withdraw his Motion. He hoped the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Bodmin would meet the views of the hon. Baronet opposite.

Instruction, by leave, withdrawn.

Ordered, That it be an Instruction to the Committee to inquire into the extension of the Municipal franchise to all Parliamentary Voters, except lodgers, and to such women as would, but for their sex, have been Parliamentary Voters (other than lodgers), and to provide that the Burgess Lists shall be revised and made up by the same persons, and at the same time as the Parliamentary Register, and if they think fit, to make provisions in the Bill for the same".(Mr. Macaleese.)