Motion made and question proposed—
That clause 32 stand part of the Bill.
MR. T. M. HEALY
I wish to enter my most earnest protest against the use of the expression "poor rate" in this clause. The Government are creating a Parliamentary revolution of the most important kind by this clause. Many objections have been taken on the opposite side of the House to the resolutions of grand juries, for several reasons which no doubt honourable Members opposite consider sound. I will state reasons of a different kind, although I hope that the fact that I object will not induce honourable Members opposite 1185 to withdraw their objections. My objection to these words, as used in this clause, is that they create a revolution as regards the Parliamentary franchise in this way: the payment of poor rate is an essential to entitle to the Parliamentary franchise, and for the first time you are now making it more difficult to get a vote in Ireland, because, whereas previously you did not have to pay other rates than the poor rate to pet the Parliamentary vote, now, by dubbing all the rates "poor rates," you provide that the payment of a number of charges which previously had not to be paid by the voter have to be paid as a condition precedent to his obtaining the Parliamentary franchise. Therefore, I feel inclined to put it to you, Sir, as a question of order, whether, in a Bill dealing with local government in Ireland, it is in order to make a provision which really trenches upon the Parliamentary franchise, with which this Bill has nothing whatever to do. Now, I make no doubt that as regards three-fourths of Ireland it is a matter of small importance, because the occupier will have to pay this rate, whether you call it consolidated rate, poor rate, or anything else. With regard to the city of Dublin, I acknowledge the very valuable concession the Government have made in giving the corporation the collection of its own rates. But, by calling the police rate the poor rate, and making the payment of 8d. in the £ under the Act of 1836 applicable over the whole of South Dublin, from the city right down to that part of the county of Wicklow which is in the Dublin metropolitan area, you make the non-payment of that police rate affect the Parliamentary franchise. South Dublin is the only police constituency except St. Stephen's Green, which is also affected by it, in the three southern provinces; and now in this way you are going to affect the franchise in this unheard-of and most unreasonable manner. Is that a fair thing to the people of the county or the people of the town? I must say that if this is persisted in the result will be that we shall have to put down an 1186 Amendment to the Bill, to which I think the Government will be unable to offer any resistance—namely, that the basis of the Parliamentary franchise, at least, shall be payment of the poor rate, in the same way as before the passing of this Act. I do not see how the Government can refuse an Amendment of that kind. Let me put this case. Under the Towns Improvement Act of 1854, in order to secure the vote in towns you had to pay the town rate and the poor rate; but years after that Act was passed the Government brought in a Bill making it sufficient to pay only the poor rate. That will be altered under this Bill. This Bill affects the Parliamentary franchise in a retroactive and reactionary sense; it is putting back the hands of the clock. It is now over a quarter of a century since Parliament made the payment of the poor rate the only essential, in the matter of rate qualification, to the franchise. The theory, of course, was that the upkeep of the poor was a burden which everybody ought to share. The towns rate is on a different footing altogether. Sir, the use of the expression "poor rate" in this clause is an Irish bull. The police rate has nothing to do with the poor rate, and therefore this would work a startling invasion of the Parliamentary franchise. Really, the pitfalls of this Bill become more evident the farther we get into it; in my opinion, we are only beginning to discover them. The landlord party are making a great outcry against this Bill.
§ SEVERAL HONOURABLE MEMBERS: No, we are not.
MR. T. M. HEALY
Well, we shall hear the music in the House of Lords. But this Bill in many respects gives them not only financial privileges, but it will have the effect in constituencies like Derry, South Dublin, and St. Stephen's Green, of affecting by a side wind the Parliamentary franchise. Now that we have come to this clause, which is the first one in which the expression "poor rate" is used in 1187 this artificial sense, I hope that we shall have a satisfactory statement from the Government as to what their intentions are. If they mean, by a side wind like this to affect the Parliamentary franchise, I can only say that at a later stage we shall have to meet them with an Amendment, in the shape of a new clause such as I have described, to which I cannot see that they could offer any resistance.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
The honourable and learned Gentleman suggests that in consolidating the rate in this way we have almost outstretched the limits of order, inasmuch as it would be necessary, in order to obtain the Parliamentary franchise, to pay not only the poor rate, hitherto known by that name, but also the county cess. I submit that there can be no question about this being in order, because Act of Parliament after Act of Parliament has added a particular rate to the poor rate, and in this Bill we are only following precedent. But now, Sir, let me say what the object of this is. In the first place, we considered that it was desirable, instead of paying separate demand notes for this, that, and the other rate, that they should all be consolidated and paid in one lump sum. That plan has, at all events, the merit of simplicity. Then there is this consideration, which, I think, the Committee will see has considerable force. We have based our local franchise on the Parliamentary register. Now, if in towns it were possible to consolidate all the rates and call them poor rate, I should prefer it, but that is not possible, having regard to the variety of rates levied in towns. In rural districts it is possible, because there is no special distinction between the county cess and the poor rate, and they can be consolidated with enormous advantage from the point of view of economy and convenience. If they are to be consolidated under one rate, that rate must obviously be the poor rate. And there is this advantage: that in a county it will be necessary for anybody, in order to qualify 1188 for the local vote, to bear the whole of the rate burden. If that were not done, you would have to have some special provision that the local taxes should be paid first, which would lead to great complication, and would not be at all economical. Lastly, let me remind the Committee of this: the honourable and learned Member seems to think that grievous injustice will be done to Irish Parliamentary electors by requiring them to pay rates which they have not hitherto been required to pay, in order to exercise the Parliamentary franchise. But in England these rates are all—or almost all—included already under the poor rate; and therefore we are, practically, only assimilating the state of things in Ireland to that existing in England.
MR. T. M. HEALY
I did not anticipate that clause 32 would have been reached so early, and, although, of course, I am very glad that we have made so much progress, I am not prepared to reply to the right honourable Gentleman on the English analogy. But I am disinclined, with great deference to the right honourable Gentleman, to accept his statement without some investigation. According to my reading of the Act of 1857, I think that if I had the Act here I could satisfy the right honourable Gentleman that his view is not the correct one. I am not prepared with any sufficient knowledge of the English law to contradict him flatly, and I would not like to do so, but this I will say: this matter cannot rest where it is. There is another objection to the clause which occurs to me, and it is a very serious one. In a subsequent clause the poor rate is made payable in a lump sum once a year—
MR. T. M. HEALY
Twice a year; very well. I quite recognise that there are many conveniences in the course the Government have taken, from the point of view of the draftsman—that is to say, 1189 it spares the well-paid officials, who do the Government drafting, from spending a little more time and covering a little more paper, and it saves a little expense in printing. But it is a purely drafting problem, and, for the sake of sparing the draftsman trouble, the Government are going to impose this new obligation on the Parliamentary voter which never previously existed. Look at the great hardship which will be worked in the case of the two contested divisions I have referred to—South Dublin and St. Stephen's Green. They are the only two divisions in Ireland which pay this police rate of 8d. in the £. It is a peculiar rate confined to Dublin; and now you are going, for the first time, to make the payment of that rate a condition precedent to the Parliamentary franchise. Actually, in two of the most contested divisions in Ireland, you are going, by a side wind, to put the Parliamentary franchise on a new basis, and impose an obligation which never existed before. The right honourable Gentleman has taken his stand on the score of convenience, but I repeat that this is only a drafting problem, and one that could be got over with a very little trouble. If I were drafting the clause from the point of view of popular rights, what I should do is this: my demand-note should be segregated—
MR. T. M. HEALY
No doubt there is a provision of that kind in the Bill, and that only strengthens my argument. Then you could put your poor rate proper under sub-head A, B, or C, and it would only be under that particular subhead that the question of qualification for the Parliamentary vote should arise. But this clause as it now stands is building up a bulwark, a laager, round these two divisions, and making them Tory preserves, possibly for all time. It is an excrescence on the Bill; it is entirely out of place in a Bill of this character. Let me take, by way of illustration, the Amendment which the right honourable Gentleman has put on the Paper, dealing with the Collector General of Rates in 1190 Dublin. That is an Amendment which I have described as an admirable one, though I must say that the right honourable Gentleman always manages to water his wine. All through this Bill it is a most remarkable fact that there is not a single clause which confers a popular right, which does not at the same time give something to the landlord and Conservative Party. Where you give with one hand you take away with the other. You may give, perhaps, a little more than you take, but I say these clauses are so balanced that they give to the landlord party in every case considerable advantages. Now, the right honourable Gentleman has put down on the Paper the following Amendment—On and after the first day of October, One thousand eight hundred and eighty-nine, or such other day, not more than six months earlier or later, as may be fixed by the Local Government Board, the following provisions shall apply with respect to the Dublin Collector General of Rates and to the poor rate, police rate, bridge tax, and bridge rate:—(1) The poor rate shall be levied in the city of Dublin in like manner as in the rest of Ireland.Then he goes on to provide that this police rate shall be collected and treated in every way as if it were poor rate. Now, there is no necessity whatever for the right honourable Gentleman making that provision; he might have said that it should be treated as if it were the grand jury cess. The two cesses will be struck in Dublin. But no; the exceedingly deft and able draftsmen who are advising the right honourable Gentleman had their eye on St. Stephen's Green and South Dublin, and accordingly they name this with a name which is loaded with disfranchisement and disqualification. I can only say that unless I get a better answer from the right honourable Gentleman on this matter, I shall put down an Amendment raising the whole question of the Parliamentary franchise, and I hope that when that Amendment is reached I shall not be told that the question of the Parliamentary franchise is not relevant to the Bill. But undoubtedly this is a matter which the Government must grapple with. I certainly say that no sufficient answer has been given to me 1191 except that the right honourable Gentleman has referred to the question of convenience, and I have pointed out a very easy way in which that could be got over.
§ MR. KNOX
There is, one way in which I think the right honourable Gentleman could largely remove the mischief which has been pointed out. This clause provides that in county boroughs—The expenses of the council of an urban district, if incurred in meeting the expenses of guardians, shall be defrayed out of the poor rate, and if incurred in meeting the expenses of the county council, shall be defrayed out of any rate heretofore levied by the urban sanitary authority of the district to meet presentments of the grand jury, and, where no such rate was levied, out of the poor rate.I think that means that the boroughs are to go on levying for the mass of their ordinary expenses out of the rate sometimes called the local expenses rate and sometimes called the improvement rate—it has a different name in different boroughs according to their local Acts—and that the balance shall be levied out of the poor rate. At present the money is raised precisely for the same purposes as it will be under this Bill, and it is levied partly under the improvement rate and partly under the grand jury cess. There is no distinction between the two expenditures. The reason why some boroughs levy an urban sanitary rate, while others do not, is that some have exceeded the limit under their local Act for their improvement rate, and others have not. Now, what I suggest is this: if this clause provided that any limitation on the amount of the improvement rate should for this purpose be removed, and that the whole of the expenses to be levied by the council, which have not hitherto affected the franchise, should be—defrayed out of any rate heretofore levied by the urban sanitary authority of the district to meet presentments of the grand jury"—I think that would meet the point. A concrete example is sometimes the best method of explaining a proposal. Let me take, for instance, the case of Derry. Up to now I believe there has not been 1192 an urban sanitary rate, because they have been within their limit, and therefore this would not have any application. Still, it is very probable that there would be an urban sanitary rate levied in Derry so soon as they exceed their limit, as is pretty certain to happen. Immediately upon that, under this Bill, the balance would affect the Parliamentary franchise. A much simpler thing would be to remove this limitation, and allow the borough rate to be separated from the poor rate, and provide that all the borough expenses which do not affect the franchise now shall not affect it in the future. I see difficulties in framing an, Amendment, owing to the fact that so many local Acts have to be dealt with, and it is very difficult to frame any general words to apply to all cases. But I venture to hope that the Chief Secretary will consider whether some such method as I have indicated cannot be planned out, so as to mitigate a result which I am quite sure he does not wish to achieve.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I would point out to honourable Members that in clause 39 we have a provision for keeping distinct items raised on the same basis as the poor rate, but which are not to be subject to the provisions of this Act as to rent and so forth. Therefore I do not see that it can fairly be said that we are imposing any hardship in Ireland that does not exist in England.
§ MR. KNOX
I do not think I have made my meaning quite clear. There are three things to be considered. First, the improvement rate, or the rate that is referred to in this Bill as—the rate heretofore levied by the urban sanitary authority of the district to meet presentments of the grand jury.There is, secondly, a rate which is in practice now distinct from the poor rate, namely, the urban sanitary rate, levied by the town council, for their purposes. The improvement rate is in almost every town now limited by law—there is an arbitrary limit. The urban sanitary rate is levied by the town council for the balance of expenditure which they cannot meet out of the improvement rate. At present neither of those rates affects the franchise, Then there is a third rate—the poor rate—which at present does 1193 affect the franchise. Now, the proposition on the Bill as it stands is that, in cases where clause 39 does not apply, the urban sanitary rate shall be levied as part of the poor rate rather than as part of the improvement rate. My contention is that, if you are going to consolidate that urban sanitary rate with anything, you ought to consolidate it with the rate which does not affect the franchise rather than with a rate which does affect the franchise. I venture to think that that is a reasonable ground to take, and I will support it further on this ground: you have at present the improvement rate and the urban sanitary rate, levied under the same precepts, in the same way, and at the same time. They have always been regarded as practically one. It is true people could find out how much was one and how much the other, but they pay the two together, and they regard them as practically one. Though I do not say that we ought to consolidate them for all purposes. I see no reason why it should be provided that the urban sanitary rate, which has always been levied with the improvement rate, should now be consolidated with the poor rate and begin to affect the franchise, which it has never done before. The point is really one of substance and importance, and I think it deserves the consideration of the Government.
§ MR. TULLY
I desire to ask for some explanation as to the meaning of sub-section (b). That section provides that the expenses of an urban district council—if the district is not a county borough, shall be defrayed out of the fund or rate out of which the costs of paving and cleansing the streets in such district are or can be defrayed.I think there is a very important point involved in that provision, which will affect townspeople very seriously. At present, in the towns, the whole rate is put on owners of houses, and only one-fourth or the owners of land. If the expenses of an urban district council are to be levied in that proportion in the future, so that the whole rate is to fall on the shopkeepers and only one-fourth on the gentry, I think that will be very unfair. Take the case of towns that 1194 have not adopted the Towns Commissioners Act. Under this section, if they become urban districts, is it intended that only one-fourth of the rate shall be put upon the owners of land, or will the incidence of the rate remain as at present? In the case of Limerick the Towns Improvement Act is not at present in force. If their population is strong enough to become an urban district under this clause, the result will be, as I read the clause, that the landlords and the county officials who own the land, or have their residences outside the town on the banks of the Shannon, will only pay one-fourth of the rate, and the balance will have to be put on the shoulders of the struggling shopkeepers and traders of the town. I think it will be most unfair that the well-to-do people, who have their splendid residences outside the town, should be exempted from three-fourths of the rate, and that that three-fourths should be put on the shoulders of the traders, who already have enough to do to make both ends meet under their present circumstances. Then there is a further point. Under the Towns Commissioners Act the rate to be levied is limited to one shilling in the £. This clause says—The expenses incurred by the council of an urban district in relation to the business transferred to the council by or in pursuance of this Act, or otherwise, in the execution of this Act.are to be met by a rate of one shilling in the £, which is the limit fixed by the present Towns Improvement Act. Now, this is a matter that is causing a good deal of anxiety in the towns. They feel very anxious about it. They certainly do not like the prospect that the landowners should be relieved of three-fourths of the rate, and that that three-fourths should be put on the shoulders of the shopkeepers and others, who will get no benefit in the matter of the agricultural grant. I do not wish to take any technical point, but I think we are entitled to some explanation as to the precise meaning of this section.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
The honourable Member raises two points. I will take the second point first. He says there is a limit on the rate, out of which we propose that the expenses which are 1195 transferred to the urban districts shall be met. Apparently, he has not read the last words of the sub-section (b), which provide that this allowance—shall be excluded in ascertaining any limit imposed by law upon any such rate.The precise meaning of that is that where additional expense under the Act is thrown on the urban district councils the limit of one shilling in the £, or whatever it may be, shall not be held to apply to that additional expense. That disposes of one of the points raised by the honourable Member. The other point is with regard to the exemption of agricultural lands. Where, under the existing law, a town already being an urban sanitary district has applied to the Local Government Board to become its own road authority, it has been the invariable practice for agricultural lands to be excluded from the burden of expenses. If it is not the universal practice, it is almost universal. Therefore, as it appears that in the past the towns have always been willing to undertake the powers and duties of presentment sessions in connection with roads, coupled with a provision which throws only one-fourth of the rates ensuing from that upon agricultural land, I cannot see that there is any harm in continuing that precedent.
§ MR. SERJEANT HEMPHILL
I confess that I think there is real substance in the point raised by the honourable and learned Member for North Louth. The title of this Bill is—A Bill for amending the law relating to Local Government in Ireland, and for other purposes connected therewith.But, according to this clause that we are now dealing with, it will really operate as a disfranchising Bill. As the law stands at present, certain rates must be paid before the 1st January in every year in order to qualify an occupier to be put on the Parliamentary register. Those rates are restricted to the poor rates; but, according to what we have just been told by the Chief Secretary, that law is now to be altogether altered, and the occupier will not only have to 1196 produce his receipt for the poor rate which accrues up to the 1st January in every year, but he must also show that he has paid what was formerly called the county cess. As the law stands, there is no necessity at all for proving payment of the county cess in order to have a place on the Parliamentary register. Therefore you are doubling the necessary burden for the Parliamentary franchise by using the expression "poor rate," or the whole of the clause will be nullified by the courts deciding that "poor rate," as used in the clause, cannot refer to the poor rate contemplated by the Parliamentary code. That would be an extraordinary state of things, and it appears to me that there would be no difficulty in introducing words in some part of this or some other section to make the matter clear. In Dublin the right honourable Gentleman is aware that there is a consolidated rate, including the poor rate of North Dublin and the South Dublin Union, and including also several other rates. All you have to show is that you have paid the poor rate. It would be quite easy to frame the clause so that a receipt should be given discriminating what is poor rate proper and what is now the substitute for the old county cess. That would leave the Parliamentary franchise as it was before, and would not involve the difficulty that has been pointed out. This difficulty would not be confined to Dublin. In my opinion, it might involve, to a great extent, the disfranchisement of every rated occupier throughout the whole of Ireland.
That clause 32 stand part of the Bill.
§ Agreed to.
§ Committee report progress; to sit again on Monday.