HC Deb 17 February 1897 vol 46 cc613-25

Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [11th February],— That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Dublin Corporation Bill that, either by definition or enactment, they make provision for conferring on duly qualified women the municipal franchise within the City of Dublin."—(Mr. William, Johnston.)

Question again proposed:—Debate resumed.

MR. J. L. CAREW, (Dublin, College Green)

rising to a point of order, asked whether, having regard to the fact that the clauses in the Bill relating to the franchise did not propose an extension of the franchise, but merely a simplification of the methods for getting names on the register, the instruction of the hon. Member, which proposed an entirely new franchise, was in order.


said that when it was last before the House he said he thought the Instruction was in, order, and before doing so he had looked at the Bill and considered the point the hon. Member referred to. He thought the Instruction was in order.

MR. W. JOHNSTON (Belfast, S.)

said he proposed to confer on women in the city of Dublin who were duly qualified that franchise which women exercised in Blackrock, Kingstown, and Belfast. In England and Scotland women possessed the municipal franchise, and it seemed to him very hard that women in the metropolis of Ireland should be deprived of it. He understood from a letter he had received from a Member of the Dublin Corporation that the municipal electorate of Dublin would under this Bill be increased from about 8,000 to 36,000. If that be so, it was very extraordinary that the Dublin Corporation should refuse their assent to his proposition. He begged to move the Instruction which stood in his name.


said he thought that were the House in possession of the facts of the case, they would see that there was nothing in the statement which the hon. Member for South Belfast had made with regard to the Bill, which ought to secure the support of the House. The question of women suffrage had never been brought before the Corporation by anybody, though it was open to the Member of the Corporation who had written to the hon. Member for South Belfast, and to every citizen of Dublin who wanted to raise the question, to do so. A meeting of burgesses was held in support of the Bill, and neither in the Corporation nor at the meeting of the burgesses, nor by anybody connected with the City of Dublin, was one question raised which would warrant the hon. Member in moving this Instruction. The hon. Member himself had no connection with the City of Dublin. He did not represent it, nor did he even sympathise with its general position or character, and if he had any interest in the matter it would be an interest against the Bill, because his interest would be in the townships which were referred to in the Bill. This was the third attempt made by the Dublin Corporation to obtain from the House of Commons power to charge the surrounding townships for their supply of water at a figure already fixed, really by statute, but which the townships were not paying owing to a looseness in the drawing of the Statute. The main provision of the Bill, and the purpose of the Bill, were merely to carry out an arrangement fixed 25 or 26 years ago, by which the Dublin Corporation was to supply to the townships 20 gallons of water per head of the population per day, and it was arranged by the Bill that in case of excess over that amount taken by the township they should pay a certain figure by arrangement. The townships had been, however, drawing the water in excess without paying any figure for it, and the whole scope of the Bill was merely to enable the Corporation to compel the townships to pay for the water they were taking in excess of the amount fixed by Statute. Was it not a monstrous injustice to the citizens of Dublin, that when they incurred all the expense of coining to Parliament to seek an act of justice they should be defeated by any fad or frivolous objection any particular Member might choose to raise? ["Hear, hear!" and laughter.] This was the third time that the Bill had been promoted by the Dublin Corporation. It was at first defeated on a vote of the citizens on some misunderstanding as to the Franchise Clauses, Last year the Bill came before the House of Commons; it passed the different readings in the House of Commons; it was approved of by a Committee in the House of Commons; and it was finally defeated because a Member of the House moved a Franchise Instruction and carried it against the Bill, and it was eventually thrown out in the House of Lords. As a punishment to the House of Lords the Bill was rejected by the House of Commons, after the citizens of Dublin had paid £12,000 in promoting it. The Corporation of Dublin did not object to the extension of the franchise to women, but they were in this position—that the question was not raised by the citizens. The member of the Corporation who wrote to the Member for South Belfast did not raise the question in the Corporation, because he would have been defeated. If the Instruction were now passed it would have the effect of wrecking the Bill for the third time. The Instruction was mandatory; it took out of the hands of the Committee having charge of the Bill all discretion, all opportunity of examining evidence upon the question; and it compelled them to adopt this principle of women suffrage whether it might wreck the Bill or not. If the Committee carefully examined the evidence as to whether machinery existed in Dublin or not for giving practical effect to the Instruction—and he knew that no such machinery existed—they would have no alternative but to reject the Bill. The hon. Member, by his Instruction, absolutely tied the hands of the Committee. The hon. Member next spoke of woman suffrage as it existed in Belfast, Blackrock, and Kingstown. These places stood upon a totally different footing from the City of Dublin. In Dublin, Kingstown, and Blackrock the franchise lists were made up by the Town Clerk. In the City of Dublin there were three distinct official authorities who combined to make up the lists—the clerks of the two Unions and the Collector General. The Collector General was independent of the Corporation, being an official of the Government, appointed directly by Statute. The effect of this Instruction, if carried, would be to throw upon the Collector General, who, as he had said, was not an officer of the Corporation, an entirely new duty. That duty, perhaps, he would have no objection to have cast upon him if the question of woman suffrage became a general question with which he would have to deal. Under this Instruction he would have to open a new column in his rate-book; he would have to inquire into the names of the women who were qualified, and yet they had no machinery for paying him or compelling him to do this work. The hon. Member did not give any indication to the Committee in this Instruction what was the particular view of women's suffrage he wished them to adopt. They had no choice. They were to do it, either by definition or enactment, but the hon. Member did not tell them whether the franchise was to be conferred on those who occupied rooms in rated premises or on those who paid rates directly. He could understand a franchise which it would be easy to work out if it were confined strictly to the case of women who paid rates directly on property, and whose names appeared on the lists because they did so. But with regard to women who occupied rooms in tenement houses, nobody had any knowledge as to who they were. They did not pay rates to the Town Clerk or to the Collector General; there were no means of discovering their names, and the only machinery left to the Collector General for ascertaining them was the form connected with the Parliamentary franchise, and that form specially forbade him to put down on it the name of any woman. There was no machinery whatever if it was intended to apply it to women who occupied rooms in tenement houses. That was the position in which the Instruction of the hon. Member put the Committee. He entirely agreed with the hon. Member on the general question of women's suffrage, but do not let it be raised by side issues here and there—one Act for Belfast, one for Kingstown, and one for Dublin, until those who had got to deal with it in the public courts did not know where they were. Let the whole question be dealt with in a general Act. ["Hear, hear!"] He knew this question of women's suffrage was one which had very largely the sympathy of the House, but he appealed to hon. Members not to import their views on the question into this Bill, because that was not the way to deal with it even if it were practicable under the Bill. The carrying of the Instruction would have no other effect than that of killing the Bill for the third time. [Cries of "No!"] It was so. If the Instruction were adopted it could not be carried out by the Committee, and, as it was a mandatory Instruction, if it could not be carried out by the Committee they had no other discretion than to reject the Bill. The hon. Member had referred to a letter from a member of the Dublin Corporation. He had not given the House the name of the writer, and he could assure the hon. Member that if he inquired into the facts he would find that cither the writer was opposed to the extension of the municipal franchise in the Measure, or that he was interested in the townships which were to be affected by the Bill—possibly both. The Instruction sought to import into the Bill a matter which was not before the citizens of Dublin when the Bill was promoted. He had not the slightest doubt that the Instruction would be ruled out of order elsewhere—possibly the whole franchise connected with the Bill, and then they would be again in the position of last year. Some £15,000 or £16,000 at least had been already lost in promoting this Bill, and he appealed to the House to give his fellow-countrymen in Ireland the same measure of fairplay which they meted to other corporations who came there. Those other corporations had none of these views imposed on their Bills. He appealed to the hon. Member not to punish the citizens of Dublin by rejecting their Bill, or even to endanger its passing by a mandatory Instruction upon this question. [Cheers.]


said that, while he cordially sympathised with the Motion of the hon. Member for Belfast, he would appeal to him not to persevere with it to the extent of endangering this Bill. He regretted very much that the citizens of Dublin had not a sufficiently progressive spirit or sufficient of that spirit of gallantry to follow the example of Belfast and grant the women of Dublin the same municipal privileges accorded to men.


said the citizens in framing their Bill had to avoid all matters which they thought would be contentious, and, while they might be very desirous for women's suffrage, they tried to present the Bill becoming a contentious one by leaving it out in case there should be a strong feeling against the subject.


said that, however that might be, a poet on those Benches had summed up the situation in these lines:— Oh, why should Johnston take a course Which you so much deplore? Because he loveth water much, But loveth women more. [Loud laughter.] In that respect he gladly ranged himself alongside the hon. Member for Belfast, The hon. Member deserved the gratitude of all advocates of women's suffrage for his consistent labours in so righteous a cause; but he thought he had, by his action, made a sufficient protest on this question. If he followed it up by another course before the end of the Session he should have his hearty support, but, in view of the money already expended by the citizens of Dublin in promoting this Bill, he hoped he would not endanger its passing by pressing his Instruction.


said he did not see why they should endanger the passing of this Bill by adopting the Instruction. Who would reject the Bill on account of the adoption of the Instruction? Not the House of Commons. The House of Commons would not turn back on itself and reject the Bill after it ordered the Instruction, because it provided for the extension of the franchise to women. Then it must be either the Committee or the Corporation. [Cries of "The Lords."] He was not at all afraid of the House of Lords on this account. The hon. Member could scarcely mean that the Committee, which was a judicial body, which would hear evidence and base its finding on that evidence, would reject the Bill because that House had told them they were to do some particular thing with the Bill? Therefore the hon. Member could merely mean that the Corporation of Dublin would withdraw the Bill. [Cries of "No!"] Then if that was so the danger which had been spoken of simply fell to the ground. This question had not been sprung upon the Dublin Corporation, because it had been raised twice before. The Corporation had not raised the question simply because they represented only the men. But that House represented, he hoped, the whole country, and they desired that women of Dublin should have the same municipal advantages that all the qualified women had in Great Britain, and that the women had in Kingstown and Belfast. ["Hear, hear!"] Though, no doubt, he should be very glad to see a general Bill brought in giving the municipal franchise to women throughout Ireland; and though, no doubt, that would be better than to do it in this piecemeal fashion—["hear, hear!"]—he would remind the House that that piecemeal fashion had been begun already, and he did not see why, when they had a good thing before them, they should not take advantage of it while they had the opportunity, instead of waiting to some future date when a general Bill was introduced. He should cordially support the Instruction.


could not see that any case had been made out by the hon. Member (Mr. Harrington), whose one point, he understood, was that the Bill would be wrecked because it was impossible for the authorities to make out any list to include women voters. But that was merely matter of assertion, and he could not see any difficulty of the kind. The Instruction called upon the Committee to make provision for conferring the municipal franchise on duly qualified women, and no reasonable man could doubt for a moment that the Committee could do this. It was curious to find the hon. Gentleman protesting against this franchise resolution as applied to a private Bill, seeing that in so many instances an Instruction or Amendment to a similar effect had been carried according similar privileges to women. He supported the Instruction, and would vote for it if his hon. Friend went to a division.

MR. HUBERT DUNCOMBE (Cumberland, Egremont)

appealed to the House not to assent to this Motion. The matters in the Bill concerned the Corporation and ratepayers of Dublin, and for the third time the Bill was before the House, its promotion having cost thousands of pounds. It would be unfair to the promoters to introduce this controversial matter, and risk the loss of the Bill for the third time. The hon. Member for Walsall said the Bill ran no risk because of the introduction of this franchise Instruction; but last Session the Bill was lost on this account.


I said it was not lost in the Lords.


said the Bill was lost, and a similar risk would be incurred by the adoption of the Instruction now. It was going beyond the functions of the House, it would be a misuse of the powers of the House—powers he certainly had no wish to minimise—to subject the promoters for the third time to risk of losing a Bill of this kind—which concerned the health and comfort of one of the principal cities of the kingdom—to gratify what had been called a "fad," in which a large number of Members took a great deal of interest. The whole difficulty in respect to this subject began, he thought, through the House not listening to the advice of the Speaker. At the end of last Session the House got itself into an extraordinary tangle over this Bill, and there was observable then, as now, a total absence of leaders on either side to give the House guidance. On the division on the last occasion the House was left to itself, and it was credibly reported that so little was the question understood that one Member consulted the coins in his pocket as to which Lobby he should enter. Surely this was a matter the House should have clearly before it. The House had been told by a Member representing the City of Dublin that the adoption of this Instruction would risk the loss of the Bill, and this risk, he submitted, the House ought not to encourage. If ever there was a subject on which a Member might reasonably expect the Home Rule principle to apply it was in the municipal government of the city in which he lived. Such local government was given to all our cities, large and small, and it was deeply rooted in our constitution. The hon. Member (Mr. Harrington) represented a very strong feeling in Dublin on this subject, and he earnestly appealed to the House not to assent to this Motion.

MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)

did not wish to enter into local disputes in connection with this Bill, or into the particular question of the enfranchisement of women, or certainly not in detail, but he thought the House would do well to consider whether this sort of piecemeal legislation on the subject of the franchise was likely to redound to the credit of Parliament or the advantage of the country. Some hon. Members might say the fault was not theirs, the system began long ago, and many Members of the Party opposite made themselves responsible for the first steps in what he considered this wrong direction; but what did this amount to? Instead of a general statute governing the franchise in municipal areas, here were partial discussions day after day; instead of proposals submitted on the responsibility of a Minister, advantage was taken of the machinery of a private Bill, and an Instruction was moved by any Member who might happen to take a special view of his own on any subject connected therewith. It was a question he could not now discuss, but he confessed to a very strong feeling against the introduction of a controversial and political matter like the franchise into a private Bill. It certainly was as far back as he could remember, and had continued until quite lately, the practice of the House to put its foot down firmly on any attempt to open up political issues on a private Bill. This had been the rule always applied, and he should have almost thought the Rules of Order had declared against great subjects of controversy being imported into private Bill discussions. But that was a matter he would not be in order in discussing. The House was confronted with this: a political matter of a highly controversial nature was sought to be imported into a private Bill by a mandatory Instruction to the Committee; and this was a position the House ought very seriously to consider. Whether it was right or not right that women should have the franchise was scarcely now the subject for consideration; there was an opportunity for considering that two weeks ago in connection with another part of the political field, and if his hon. Friend introduced a Bill of a general character applicable to the whole of Ireland no doubt the House would be prepared to give attentive hearing to his arguments. Meanwhile he hoped the House would not follow up the very mischievous precedent of last year, when a serious departure was made from the usage and practice of Parliament under circumstances he would not recall. He hoped that, under the circumstances, the Instruction would not be persevered with.

MR. W. FIELD, (Dublin, St. Patrick)

as a representative of the city of Dublin, felt it his duty to voice the views of the Corporation; and he read the terms of a resolution in which the Corporation declined to accept this alteration in the Bill as approved by the burgesses, and called upon Dublin Members to vote against the Instruction. In obedience to that resolution he would vote against the Motion. At meetings held to consider the Bill 15 wards declared in its favour, and in only two wards were there majorities against the Bill. Why did not gentlemen who were desirous of obtaining women's suffrage in Dublin bring a proposal before a meeting of the Corporation?


Why did not the hon. Gentleman bring it forward himself? His name is on the back of my Bill.


said so far as he personally was concerned he was in favour of women having votes for municipal purposes, but he was deterred from taking any action in regard to this Bill because it was thought by those in charge of it that it would endanger the Bill. The hon. Member for South Belfast thought he could use this women's suffrage question to suit his own purpose, for he was one of the hon. Gentlemen who helped to wreck the Bill last year.


appealed to the Speaker if these imputations were in order. He repudiated everything but a desire to introduce women's suffrage.


had heard no imputation of any dishonourable or improper motive to the hon. Gentleman.


concluded with an appeal to the House not to subject the Dublin Corporation to further expense, but to allow the Bill in its present form to go to a Select Committee.

*MR. CARVELL WILLIAMS (Notts,) Mansfield

pointed out that the Instruction applied solely to the municipal franchise, and he submitted that it was too late in the day to call this proposal a political fad.


I did not call it a political fad. I said that if this practice were sanctioned by the House of Commons, there is no fad which any private Member has that he may not raise.


said the hon. Member opposite spoke of this proposal as a fad. There were some fads which had a knack of becoming established political doctrines, and this was one of them. The Legislature had accepted the principle so far as the municipal franchise for women was concerned, and this was a proposal to apply to Ireland the principle which existed in England. As to the second point, that this was an irregular mode of endeavouring to establish a certain principle, he had only to say that private Members were driven, not infrequently, to the adoption of an irregular method of procedure because they found it impossible, under the present mode of procedure in that House, to advocate the principles they desired to see established by a recourse to regular methods. The advocates of the Parliamentary franchise for women had to wait for years before they could obtain a discussion of their Bill. They had now carried that Bill to a Second Reading, but nobody knew whether it was likely to proceed further. This Instruction afforded an opportunity of extending to a city in Ireland the principle which was already adopted in this country, and he submitted that the advocates of Women's Suffrage were entitled to avail themselves of the opportunity that thus presented itself.

The House divided:—Ayes, 89; Noes, 61.—(Division List, No. 31.)


had the following Instruction on the Paper:— That it be an Instruction to the Committee to which the Bill shall be committed that they shall insert therein clauses to provide that all the questions in dispute between the Corporation of Dublin and the Commissioners of the several townships mentioned or referred to in the Bill as to the quantity and price for supply of water by the Corporation to the townships shall be decided by a referee or arbitrator appointed by the Board of Trade or in such other manner as to the Committee may seem reasonable.


The Instruction standing in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Dublin is in order because it is mandatory, and only for that reason; but I hope, under the circumstances, the right hon. Gentleman and the House will not think I am stepping outside my province if I advise him very strongly not to move this Instruction, but to wait until the matter comes before the Committee, and then, if he objects to what is done in the Committee, to raise his objection on the Report stage. There is a growing practice of putting on the Paper as the subject of an Instruction matters which do not involve simply a question of principle, but which go into matters of detail, the proper subject of Amendments in Committee, and are only in order because they are mandatory. For example, the present Bill, so far as the water question is concerned, proposes to fix the prices at which water should be sold to the different towmships around Dublin. These prices are fixed at 2½d. and 3½d. per thousand gallons and so forth, and were so fixed, I presume, after due consideration by those who prepared the Bill. What the right hon. Gentleman is proposing to do is to instruct the Committee beforehand, when the matter comes before them, not to hear evidence as to the propriety of the proposal so made after careful consideration by the promoters of the Bill, but to sanction a totally different scheme for fixing the price without giving the promoters the opportunity of bringing their evidence before the Committee. Although, as I say, the right hon. Gentleman has put himself in order by making the Instruction mandatory, it seems to me that the course he suggests is entirely contrary to all sound practice of the House in regard to private Bills, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see fit not to move this as an Instruction, but will bring his case forward before the Committee, and then take the opinion of the House upon it on the Report stage, if he thinks it necessary.


On the point of order, Mr. Speaker, may I point out to you that, the principle of the Bill having been affirmed on the Second Reading, this Instruction is practically a Motion to negative the Bill after the Second Reading has been passed?


No, I do not think it is out of order, because I cannot say that the principle of the Bill is to fix the price of water at 2½d., or 3½d., or at any particular figure. The principle of the Bill is to fix and settle the terms on which the water supply shall be made from Dublin to the townships around. But the actual figures are not the principle of the Bill, and it is competent for the Committee, by an Amendment, to say, "We will not fix the prices at 2½d. or 3½d., but make it a question of arbitration." That is what the right hon. Gentleman proposes to do, but I hope, for the reasons I have given, that he will not move the Instruction.


I have only, Mr. Speaker, to thank you for your guidance in the matter, which I shall follow. May I ask will your ruling apply to the second Instruction in my name? That it be an Instruction to the Committee to which the Bill shall be referred that they shall insert in said Bill Clauses to provide for the establishment of a water trust for the supply of water to the city of Dublin and the extra municipal districts, as defined in The Dublin Waterworks Act, 1861, on the Board of which trust the Corporation of Dublin and the Commissioners of all the townships affected by the Bill shall be represented in proportion to the valuations of the city and townships respectively.


No, the second Instruction is out of order, because it proposes that it should be an Instruction to the Committee to establish a Water Trust in Dublin. That is an entirely new subject matter, and ought to be the subject of a new Bill.