HC Deb 30 March 1897 vol 48 cc82-94

21. From and after the first day of January, one thousand eight hundred and ninety-eight, the fifth section of the Dublin Corporation Act 1849 shall he repealed, and instead thereof he it enacted that the name of the occupier of any house, warehouse, counting-house, or shop within the borough of Dublin, the owner or immediate lessor of which is primarily liable to pay the poor rates leviable in respect of such premises shall be inserted in the rate-hooks, and the guardians of the poor, the Collector-General of Rates, or any other person or persons making out or striking any such poor rate, shall enter in the occupier's column of the rate-books the name of the occupier of such premises, and such occupier shall thereupon, so far as regards the qualification for the franchise conferred by the said Act or any of the recited Municipal Acts in relation to the municipal franchise in the said borough, be deemed to be rated in respect of the said premises.

MR. EDWARD CARSON (Dublin University)

said that he rose to move the omission of Clause 21. There were a number of Amendments standing on the Paper in his name, but they were all practically involved in the first Amendment. He objected to all the franchise clauses which altered the existing franchise of the Dublin Corporation. The Bill was a private Bill for regulating the price, to be paid for water as between the Dublin Corporation and various surrounding townships, and a portion of the Bill dealt with certain matters connected with the Fire Brigade. Opportunity had been taken of inserting in this private water Bill clauses dealing with the franchise of the Dublin Corporation—a matter which had nothing to do with the object of the Bill as promoted. Last year a similar Bill was introduced, and franchise clauses were inserted, but the House of Lords eventually threw out the franchise clauses. Without these franchise clauses certain hon. Members objected to the Bill, and it was lost altogether.

It was unfortunate that in these private Bills, dealing with purely local matters— which ought to be kept altogether apart from burning questions of controversy— year after year these questions of franchise should be introduced to the peril of the main object of the Bills. On the present occasion the franchise clauses would practically destroy altogether the very small Unionist minority which was represented upon the Corporation. ["Hear, hear!"] At the present time the Corporation of Dublin consisted of 60 members, of whom 49 were Nationalists and 11 were Unionists; and he should have thought that, having regard to the fact that Unionists paid a very large proportion of the rates of Dublin, even Nationalists would not have objected to a very small minority representation. ["Hear, hear!"] There were only sufficient Unionists on the Corporation to represent the views of those who differed from the great majority. The Nationalist majority could elect whom they pleased for the various offices; they could adopt whom they pleased for Lord; Mayor, and pay him a salary largely contributed by the Unionists. But the Nationalists were not satisfied that there; should be any Unionist representation at all on the Corporation—[Nationalist cries of "Oh!"]—and with that view they introduced last year certain franchise clauses into a Water Bill, and they now proposed to repeat the experiment in this Bill, if that were not the fact, he wanted to know why this Nationalist Corporation introduced these clauses at all! ["Hear, hear!"] At the present moment the franchise was given to all occupiers of any rateable tenement whatsoever, but; when the burgess roll came to be made; but, any name could be objected to which had not been upon the rate book for a period of 12 months. In all cases where the rateable value of a tenement was over £8, the names of the occupiers were put upon the burgess roll, whether they were entitled to be on or not, and very often considerable expenditure was incurred in having the names which ought, not to have been put on struck off. The present Bill proposed that the Collector-General and other persons who had the right to frame these lists, should put on every person whom they found in occupation, irrespective of their qualifications, how long they had been in occupa- tion, or whether their rates had been paid or not. The result would be that upon this burgess list there would be hundreds, perhaps thousands, of persons who were simply weekly tenants, moving about from time to time; and the only way to get them struck off would be by the Unionist registration Societies serving notice, which must be heard before the assessors, after considerable delay and at great expense. There would be an impossible state of things created if these clauses were allowed to pass. For one Parliamentary Division of Dublin it cost £1,000 a year to keep bogus names off the burgess list, and they might imagine what it would cost to get the names off the lists for all the other divisions of the City. ["Hear, hear!"] The present system had worked well since 1849, and gave, a large majority to the Nationalists, but if this proposal were adopted it would be absolutely impossible, even at great expense, to deal with these small occupiers, who would be put upon the lists, and the few remaining Unionists upon the Corporation would be absolutely swamped. Under these circumstances he could do nothing but oppose these franchise clauses. Before the Committee there had not been a single word of discussion about these franchise clauses, and under these circumstances he asked the House to omit Clause 21.

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

said that the right hon. and learned Gentleman had told the House that the clauses in the Bill to which he objected proposed to put upon the burgess list of the City of Dublin persons who had not paid their rates, but he had not informed the House that he had himself given notice of his intention to move the omission of the very clauses which required persons to pay their rates before they could be qualified to be placed upon the list. It was scarcely fair for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to take that course, and then to complain that the Bill would enable those who had not paid their rates to be placed upon the list. The right hon. and learned Gentleman had also said that this was a proposal to sweep away altogether the Unionist minority upon the Corporation, but last year he had proposed a scheme under which the Unionist minority would have been preserved. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, however, had come down to that House and had opposed that proposal. The franchise proposals in the Bill had not been inserted in that House or by the Committee upstairs. They had been inserted in the Measure with the approval of the great majority of the citizens of Dublin when the Bill was originally framed, and if the right hon. and learned Gentleman objected to them he should have opposed the Second Reading of it. What would happen to this Measure, if the clauses to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman now objected were rejected. Why, the Bill would undoubtedly be lost. He had offered to the Conservative Party to introduce into the Bill his minority clauses of last year, but in doing so he had received no encouragement, from the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Let them go high or low, they could not please the Conservative Party, and they would not even put for-trusted that the Measure as it stood ward any proposition of their own. He would receive the sanction of Her Majesty's Government. There was nothing to prevent the Conservative Party from obtaining a locus standi when the Bill came before the House of Lords, when they could be heard by counsel. ["Hear, hear!"]

MR. T. HARRINGTON (Dublin, Harbour)

said that the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Carson) was entirely in error in stating that the Bill would alter in any way, even by a vote, the representation of the burgesses on the burgess list of the City of Dublin. The only difference his proposal made, and he contended that it was dishonest to attempt to make it, was that when a man claimed he must lose his day's work in order to go to the Court to establish his claim. The right hon. and learned Gentleman and his Party were taking advantage of that. If the Unionist Party in the City of Dublin had really nothing else to depend upon than this mere trick by which they propsed to deprive a certain class of the burgesses from getting on the burgess list without having to serve a claim that year, then he did not think it would commend itself very strongly to the citizens. [Nationalist Cheers.] The right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke of preserving the Unionist minority in the Dublin Corporation. The Unionist minority had this scheme before them and approved of it, but afterwards they altered their opinion with regard to it. He had not been opposed to the Unionist minority having a fair representation. On the contrary he was strongly in favour of every Ward in the City having at least one Unionist representative, and time after time he had endeavoured to impress that fact upon his Friends. By it he thought they would get a much more desirable class of Unionist representation, by men representing the business and commerce of the City. They were entirely opposed to the business of the City being conducted on party and political lines, but it was because they would keep alive that system of party warfare in the different Wards that he should most strongly oppose the proposals of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. The right hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to be under the impression that, no matter how short a period of time a man occupied a house, he was entitled to get on under this arrangement; but such was not the case. The Bill did not alter the existing law; it was only the inclusion of a different number of persons in the operation of the law. He appealed to the House to agree to the proposals, inasmuch as by them there was not a single man added to the register who would not have had the franchise before. The qualification was in no way altered, and all that was done was to simplify the process of registration and make it automatic. [Nationalist Cheers.]

MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)

said the point he wished to put before the House for its serious consideration was whether a private Bill, introduced for the purpose of increasing the water supply of a town, was the proper occasion for an abstract discussion like that they were engaged in. The House had a right to ask whether its time should be taken up day after day by the intrusion of these political matters into the ordinary private, legislation of the House. ["Hear, hear!"]


said perhaps he might be allowed to intervene in the character of one, who for a very long time had been a resident burgess and taxpayer in the City of Dublin. In that capacity he earnestly pressed the House not to accede to the Motion of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dublin University. He regretted, for the sake of Ireland generally, that the right hon. Gentleman could no longer be classed as a resident or taxpayer in Dublin. They regretted that as almost a national loss.


I do pay taxes in Dublin.


said the right hon. Gentleman had misconceived the object of these clauses which did not extend, or attempt in any way to alter, municipal franchise. They were altogether clauses of procedure framed for the purpose of getting rid of what had been felt to be a crying grievance. In order to qualify to be a burgess, the premises which were occupied must be rated premises and the rates must be paid. According to the existing practice when the premises were valued under £8, the occupier's name was not to be on the list at all. Very often it was impossible to tell who the owner was. The object of this Bill was to assist the proper officer to easily ascertain the name of the person actually in occupation of premises under £8, and enable that person to get the franchise in case it should be proved that the rates were paid. As the case stood now, these occupiers were frequently disfranchised, because the land-lord did not trouble, himself to pay the rates in time. Following the precedent of the English Municipal law, the franchise was extended to women, and very properly in his opinion. In the case of the Belfast Bill, and the Londonderry Bill, municipal and franchise clauses had been inserted into private Bills. Last year the minority clauses were struck out in that House, but the franchise clauses went up to the House of Lords and were struck out there under a Standing Order. They all knew that year after year promises had been given by one Government and another to remedy the defects in the Irish municipal law, but the matter was still indefinitely postponed. No reasonable argument had been advanced why the House should not endorse what the Select Committee had done. As to the objection which had been put forward in regard to the Unionist minority in the corporation, he thought the House would fail in its dignity if it rejected a Measure otherwise unobjectionable merely on the suggestion of a supporter of a particular party, that that party might be injured by it.

* MR. W. JOHNSTON (Belfast, S.)

hoped the House would not reject these clauses which included one conferring the franchise on duly qualified women, and was inserted in consequence of the Instruction to the Committee which he had carried in the House. These clauses had been approved by the Committee which had considered the Bill. He ventured, on this occasion, to associate himself with hon. Gentlemen opposite. [Irish Cheers]. Belfast enjoyed a practical assimilation of the Municipal and Parliamentary Franchises, and women could there vote in municipal elections. He thought the proposals in these clauses were fair and reasonable.


said it was not the intention of the Government as a Government to take sides in this discussion or to attempt to influence the votes of hon. Members. Speaking for himself only he should support the Amendment —[Cries of "Oh"] —moved by his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dublin University. He did not take this course on the grounds urged by his right hon. Friend the Member for the Thanet Division. He admitted there were grave inconveniences in introducing such clauses into private, Bills. But that objection if it were to be taken should have been taken on the Second Reading stage and not on the Report stage.


said he did not raise that objection as a point of order.


said in the second place both sides of the House were to blame if blame were to be assigned anywhere in regard to this matter. Last year he had himself on behalf of the Government, opposed an Instruction which introduced this principle, and on that, occasion he was opposed by no less an authority in matters of propriety and order than the right hon. Gentleman the hon. Member for the Bodmin Division, and he had the greatest difficulty in carrying his own Party with him on that occasion. Under these circumstances he could not support his right hon. Friend in opposing these clauses on the mere ground that this was a private Bill. So far as he personally was concerned on the other occasions when franchise clauses had been introduced into private Bills for Ireland, he had not raised any voice of dissent, but on all those occasions the effect of the franchise clauses which it was proposed to introduce, was to give representation to those who did not possess fair representation. Was that the case on the present occasion? The hon. and learned Member for Louth had admitted that Dublin was a fair case where minority representation would in itself be reasonable.


Yes, and the right hon. Gentleman did not support me when I proposed it last year.


said he did not support the proposal on the ground, as he had already explained, that he had objected to a similar proposal when made in the case of Belfast. He had acted in the matter with perfect consistency. The hon. and learned Gentleman had admitted by his action that Dublin would be a suitable case for the adoption of minority representation. It appeared to him that the registration law in Dublin was very complicated and he was not quite sure that he understood it. But it appeared that the existing state of the law did give to the minority in Dublin the opportunity of obtaining representation which those clauses if they were passed would take away; and therefore on the broad and general ground that a representation less just than the present would result in Dublin, he would support the Amendment of his right hon. Friend, the Member for Dublin University.


said he thought the speech to which they had just listened the most reactionary they had heard from the right hon. Gentleman who officially represented Ireland in the House of Commons. They had gradually become accustomed to the attitude of benevolent neutrality which was now the favourite attitude of the right hon. Gentleman when any Irish proposal was made. And that from a right hon. Gentleman who as he himself had declared had come into office with the determination to kill Home Rule with kindness! Those clauses proposed to do for the City of Dublin what had been done for every municipality in England by public and general Acts thirty years ago. The right hon. Gentleman said that this was a technical and complicated matter and that he was not quite sure he understood it. But it was the duty of the right hon. Gentleman, holding as he did the responsible post of Chief Secretary for Ireland, to master the, subject and to give the House light and guidance in the matter. He was amazed that the right hon. Gentleman should have opposed those clauses. English Members would be familiar with their effect when he described them as compound householder clauses. It was put to the House as if the clauses were political clauses and as if they involved some question as between Nationalists and Conservatives. They did nothing of the kind. They were an attempt to give the poor man an interest in Municipal matters—to confer on the poor householders of Dublin a right which the rich householder there had long enjoyed, and which the Prince of Wales' Committee recommended seven years ago. The Bill did not confer the franchise on any single individual who had not at present a right to the franchise. Under the existing law the poor householder must lodge his claim and prove it in the Law Courts and the only thing those clauses did was to give the franchise automatically and to dispense with that necessity. The present state of the law in the City of Dublin was a gross scandal, as anyone would see who compared the existing burgess roll with the population, and then examined the state of things in that respect which existed in English towns. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Thanet had said it was a scandal that Irishmen should be continually occupying the time of the House at private business with proposals dealing with the Municipal franchise. But the fact that those proposals had been made over and over again was a censure on the House for its neglect of Irish interests. The reform of the Irish Municipal franchise had come up for consideration many times in the House. In 1880 the Liberal Party put the reform of the Irish Municipal franchise in the forefront of their programme, but the reform had not come yet and it was only by the action of individual Irish corporations in embodying reform schemes in private Bills that any improvement in the condition of things had been secured, with the result that there was hardly a corporation in Ireland that had not its Municipal franchise regulated by private Acts. Two years ago his hon. Friend the Member for North Louth succeeded in passing an Irish Franchise Bill through the House of Commons, but the first action of the present Lord Lieutenant of Ireland was to move the rejection of that Bill in the House of Lords and to have it thrown out. The action of the Chief Secretary in opposing those clauses was enough to drive Irishmen into the consideration that nothing but bombs and dynamite would get reform for Ireland.

* MR. RICHARD M. DANE (Fermanagh, N.)

said that he would not support the Amendment of his right hon. Friend the Member for Dublin University if he thought it would deprive any working man in Dublin of his municipal vote. But it was not so much a question of the alteration of the law as the alteration of the situation. Under the 21st Clause the Registrar General would have imposed upon him the duty of placing upon the voters' list the name of every person returned to him as in occupation, and when that name was placed on the list the person was entitled to remain on as a voter until he was put off by an objection.


said the duty of the Registrar General was not to put on everybody in occupation. The person put on must be the person in occupation of the rating. For instance, a person in occupation of a portion of a house or a room, could not be put on the list.


said that there was probably no person in the United Kingdom who so thoroughly understood the Registration laws, as the hon. Member for the Harbour Division. He could understand the hon. Gentleman's desire to maintain the franchise clauses of the Bill because by them there would be put on the voters' lists, several thousand voters about whose occupation right the Registrar General would have no evidence.

The result would be that the Unionist Party in Dublin, of which he was an humble member, would be obliged to serve several thousand fresh objections. The rejection of the clauses would inflict a hardship on no man. Every man in occupation for twelve months was entitled to be on the list, and if he was not on the list all his Party had to do was to serve a claim for him.

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

said that the right hon. Member for Dublin University last year voted against the Bill because it contained no franchise clauses; and now the right hon. Gentleman voted against it because it did contain franchise clauses.


The hon. Member is in error. I assisted to strike out such franchise clauses as were in last year's Bill.


said that when the Bill came from the Lords with the franchise clauses expunged, the right hon. Gentleman voted against it. It was evidently difficult to please the right hon. Gentleman. Ever since the Unionist Government came in, the Irish Members had been invited to bring in a Bill dealing with Municipal Franchise; but whenever they did, their proposals were always resisted by the Unionists. The Franchise in Dublin was very limited, and the desire was simply to obtain the same conditions as obtained in English municipalities. These franchise clauses had been placed before the citizens of Dublin, and were supported by the Unionist members of the Corporation.


As I understand, they repented of it afterwards.


said that there was such a thing as contrition being too late. The Corporation had suffered a great hardship for many years by the Bills having been defeated on all sorts of frivolous objections, and by having been compelled to spend so much money in promoting successive Bills. He hoped the House would pass the Third Reading.


said that in the Select Committee before which the Bill came there was no opposition to the franchise clauses. The Bill was not in the ordinary sense a water Bill. It reconciled certain complicated differences between the Dublin Corporation and the surrounding townships as to the water supply, but it was practically an omnibus Bill. The corporation had been before the House of Commons twice and before the House of Lords on the question, and they were entitled to some consideration. He did not know whether the House felt called upon to support its own committee—[Cheers]—but he was surprised at the attitude of the Chief Secretary, and he hoped that Unionist Members generally would be disposed to allow the corporation to get their Bill through, and not to drive the corporation back on the conviction that questions of this kind would be better treated in Dublin. [Cheers.]

MR. JAMES O'CONNOR (Wicklow, W.)

rose to move the Adjournment of the Debate, in order to give the Chief Secretary an opportunity of considering whether he would support the Bill without the franchise clauses.


Order, order! I could not accept that Motion. The Chief Secretary has stated his views as a private Member, and for the hon. Member, after the Debate has begun to draw to a close, to move the Adjournment of the Debate in order to allow the right hon. Member to have the opportunity of reconsidering his views would be an abuse of the rules of the House. [Cheers].


On the point of order, Sir. There are five or six clauses remaining to be discussed, and there is a very important Debate coming on. We shall be entitled to discuss every one of those clauses unless the Motion for Adjournment be carried.


said the promoters of the Bill were anxious that the Vote should be taken on the Bill as it stood. The proceedings would be regulated by the Vote of this clause. No further discussion would be necessary.


Further discussion will be necessary; and I shall discuss the other clauses.


I have no business to consider what action will be taken on the subsequent clauses. I can only say that this Motion for the Adjournment is an abuse of the rules of the House.

Question put. The House divided:— Ayes, 178: Noes, 152.—(Division List, No. 153.)

Bill to be read the Third time.