§ Where the population of any rural district is less than four thousand and its rateable value is less than twenty thousand pounds the Local Government Board shall, if it is conveniently possible, amalgamate the district with an adjoining rural district in the same county, and for that purpose Sub-section (5) of Section sixty-eight of the Local Government (Ireland) Act, 1898, shall apply whether the Board have or have not amalgamated the unions comprised in the rural districts.
§ Mr. HARBISON
I beg to move, to leave out the words "four thousand and its rateable value is less than twenty thousand pounds," and to insert instead thereof the words "three thousand nine hundred."
I did not interfere very much during the Committee stage, because I did not wish to defeat the passage of this Bill to the Statute Book. Unlike some of my hon. Friends, I agree with the principle involved in it, namely, that all parties in the State should get due representation on the local councils, and I hope later on in the councils of the nation. The Clause that I wish to amend is a Clause that was not introduced by the Government into the Bill. It was introduced by my hon. Friends on the other side of the House, and I have a suspicion, a suspicion amounting to a certainty, that that Clause is for the purpose of extinguishing certain small rural councils in Ireland. I believe it affects eighteen or nineteen such councils, and it is rather peculiar that my Ulster Friends are so anxious about the small rural councils in the other three provinces of Ireland. I believe nearly all these small councils are in 1083 the other provinces, and there is one particular council in my county which has been a bone of contention in Ulster for some time. I believe it got the length of Buckingham Palace at one time, in regard to the county of Tyrone, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Duncairn Division (Sir E. Carson) has reason to remember. My object in moving this Amendment is to reduce the minimum placed in the Clause of 4,000. It is a remarkable fact that this little rural council in Tyrone is to be abolished and that its population is exactly 3,915. That is a rather suspicious circumstance, and another circumstance is that the hon. Members who proposed this Clause originally have openly declared their intention in Committee and in this House to kill this Bill. I do not know whether this Clause will kill it. in all Ireland, but certainly in the county of Tyrone it will destroy the effect of Proportional Representation in that county. If there ever was a constituency in which Proportional Representation is necessary, it is in that constituency to which I have referred.
Figures are more eloquent than even the eloquence of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Duncairn Division, or my hon. Friend the Member for the Falls Division (Mr. Devlin). Our county council consists of twenty-nine members; twenty of them are elected, seven are co-opted or ex officio members—the chairmen of the seven district councils in the county are ex officio members—and two others are co-opted. Of the twenty elected county councillors of that county, the party that I represent return eleven, and if there were no other elements in the composition of that council its complexion would be totally different from what it is to-day. I do not wish to deprive any men of their right to election, but I say that those who have a right of control of a council should not be deprived of it by fictitious means or by means such as this Clause is being used for. Of these seven district councils, at the present moment one of them is this little division of under 4,000, and it is represented by a Nationalist chairman, and one other, the largest rural district in the county, which is three times larger than some of the others, and twice as large as any particular one of the others, is also represented by a Nationalist. The other five have Unionist chairmen elected on a much smaller area. That is pretty bad under this Bill, because I think the essence 1084 of Proportional Representation is that in order to give the system a proper chance, the electoral areas should be equal, and the population, as nearly as possible, in each area or group should be equal. What are the figures in the seven electoral areas that return these chairmen? There is the district of Castlederg, which returns one-Unionist member, with a population of 11,161, according to the census for 1911; Clogher, with a population of 13,744, one Unionist; Cookstown, 18,831, also Unionist; Dungannon, which is the second largest, 26,420, Unionist; Omagh, 31,604,. one Nationalist; Strabane, 19,534, Unionist; and Trillick, 3,915, one Nationalist. There are seven district councils, and there are 68,804 Nationalists and 56,405 Unionists; that is, 68,000 Nationalists with only two chairmen, and 56,000 Unionists with five chairmen. In other words, at the present moment, there is one chairman per 34,000 Nationalists, and one chairman per 11,000 Unionists. If this Amendment be not accepted, or if the one immediately following be not accepted, which would specially exempt this one council of Trillick, the position of Tyrone would be, one chairman for 68,000 Nationalists, and five chairmen for 56,000 Unionists.
I am sorry the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. A. Williams) is not here. He understands all about this question of Proportional Representation, and I would like to give him a word of appreciation for the services he rendered to us on the Committee by explaining this system to us. If he were here I would like him to explain how to get over the anomaly under this Bill. If you take off this one council you make-the anomaly still greater. There are only two courses: either to allow all the district councils to stand in the county or to abolish the chairmen representatives from the whole of them. In my humble judgment that would be the solution, but there is an Amendment to that effect later on. That is our case, and I would ask the Attorney-General at the last moment if ho will not accept my Amendment, or the one following it in my name, which is to exempt this one district council. It can hurt nobody. It looks a trivial matter to hon. Members here, but it is a very living matter to us. It means the representation of an entire county, and it means more than that throughout the province of Ulster. I know the argument was used in another place in regard to this county of Tyrone, and it was tried to be proved 1085 that because the county council was of one political complexion the whole county was of that political complexion. As a matter of fact, when these statistics were put on the Table the argument fell to the ground, because in the county there is a Nationalist majority of something like 15,000 or 16,000, and I would like to know how we are to avoid the principle embodied in this Bill being vitiated and frustrated if we are to allow this attempt at gerrymandering in the face of the House of Commons. If this little scheme is allowed to go on, I would ask the Attorney-General to avoid the idea of any such suspicion attaching to him. It is not his Clause; he has merely accepted the Clause moved by a political party which is seeking an advantage, and in order to remove that suspicion from our minds, and from the minds of the people we represent in the north of Ireland, I hope he will accept this Amendment or the one following.
§ Mr. W. COOTE
I wish to put the other side of this case. I have just as strong a hatred of this Bill at this stage as I had at the beginning, and at every stage from its inception. I do not believe in the Bill. I do not believe it is going to make the work of local government easier in the country, and I believe, of all things, it ought never to have been applied to local government, especially in rural districts. But if this Bill is going to be at all effective, we must remove every anomaly under it. I submit that the hon. Member who has just sat down has made a very excellent case for wiping out all these little districts that are unworkable, that can hardly ever have a quorum, and are a nuisance, I am sure, to the officials of the Local Government Board, as they are a nuisance in every county in which they exist. There are about eighteen in Ireland. Many are in the north. There is one in South Antrim, I know, and one in North Armagh, and we cannot have a quorum on these little districts to do the work of the county to which they belong. Take this rural village of Trillick. Trillick will only have four members under this Bill. one being the chairman, and they will require a secretary and all the other officials. The road inspector will have to travel from Armagh, a distance of something like fifteen miles, to meet this rural district council, and probably not find a quorum there, as happens on many occasions. Therefore, from the business point 1086 of view, these small rural districts should be swept away under this Bill. But, apart from this, I can quite understand the reason why my hon. Friend on the. other side takes such a strong view as he does on this Trillick case. Ho tells us it is a Nationalist rural district, having a Nationalist chairman, and he tells us there are 16,000 more Nationalist electors in Tyrone than Unionists, but he does not tell us that, for the purposes of this Bill, if Proportional Representation is to do anything, if it is to realise all that is intended by it, and that is, to give equal representation to every shade of opinion in every area, then I want to put before the House this fact— that every district council in Tyrone has a Nationalist majority to-day, and when this Bill is applied, will be returning a Nationalist chairman all along the line. Castlederg has 175 Nationalists more than Unionists, Strabane 1,640, Trillick 689, Omagh 7,500, Clogher 220, Dungannon 1,076, and Cootestown 1,101. So that when you come to apply Proportional Representation, all the grievances the hon. Gentleman has mentioned will disappear, and, according to the hypothesis of the hon. Member for Walthamstow, each of these councils will be returning a Nationalist chairman; that is, if they do not have a split and fight amongst themselves. Is this House going to tolerate a little pocket borough like Trillick— this little unworkable district—to remain for the purpose of ensuring that a Nationalist chairman shall go to the county council 1 This, I submit, is an unfair and unworkable position, and this is the time to get rid of it.
§ Mr. COOTE
I submit that the figure here is much too small, and if our Friends are only out for mere politics in this matter, we, at any rate, want to see some efficient system brought in that is more workable than the present one. With this opportunity, these small areas, we submit, should disappear, and while I oppose the Bill, and propose to vote against it in the last resort, yet, if the House will pass this. Bill, I am anxious that it should pass in such a condition as will be workable, or, at least, more workable than if you allow these anomalies to exist. I submit that, instead of the figure of 4,000, which is much too small, we should have stuck to the 5,000.
Lieut.-Commander C. WILLIAMS
Will the Attorney-General inform the House why he chose 4,000 in place of any other particular figure? There are two more questions I would like to put. How many districts is this going to affect; and what are they? If the Attorney-General will kindly enlighten the English Members of the House on this we might be in a position to support him or otherwise when the time arrives.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
Where are the English Members in the House? They will be flocking into the Lobby when the Division comes. I was one of the Tellers on the last occasion, and was nearly crushed to death by these people. I move that the bell be rung, and that they be sent for.
§ Mr. SAMUELS
This matter was discussed for nearly two hours in Committee, and I gave details of all the small communities affected by this—I think nine teen of them. The hon. Member asks why we did not insert 5,000. I may tell him that this matter was under the consideration of the Local Government Board, and they came to the conclusion that it was desirable to get rid of about nineteen small areas——
§ Mr. SAMUELS
I am saying this matter was under the consideration of the Local Government Board. We were going to bring in a proposal about it, but the Local Government Board had to deal with the case of nineteen small areas which, at the time of the Local Government Act, 1898, had to be carved out like snippets when dividing up the areas, because every Poor Law union had to be within the borders of a county. The result was that where unions were within two or three counties, they had to divide these small rural areas for Local Government Board purposes into little separate areas. It has been most inconvenient in working, and the proposal of the Government is that, where the population is under 4,000, and where the valuation is under £20,000, these areas may be combined if the Local Government Board think it proper. It has been impossible in these small areas to get efficiency. The roads get out of order, because there is not sufficient valuation or a sufficient number of ratepayers on whom to impose the charges for keeping up the roads which have to be managed by the district councils. That is a very serious inconvenience to the public. Also 1088 they have to deal with certain sanitary and other arrangements, and the frequent absence of a quorum results in a very great amount of inconvenience.
§ Mr. HARBISON
Will the Attorney-General say how many of these eighteen or nineteen councils would be affected by a reduction of the limit by 100?
§ Mr. SAMUELS
I cannot really legislate for one particular community. We take the round number. I am acting upon the instruction of the Local Government Board with regard to it, and they find that, for the purposes of administration, it is necessary to combine. The whole matter was discussed in Committee at very great length, and they came to the conclusion that the method proposed by the Government should be adopted.
§ Amendment negatived.
With regard to the Amendments on Clause 8, I am afraid they will involve a charge on the rates.
§ Mr. SAMUELS
To bring in the Amendments in the names of the hon. Members for Tyrone (Mr. Harbison), the hon. Member for Belfast (Mr. Lynn), and in my own name, I understand that the Bill will have to be re-committed after the Report stage. We are accepting those Amendments, but I understand it is merely a matter of form.
The Bill can be re-committed to a Committee of the Whole House in order that these proposed Amendments may be inserted. It would then be possible to have a further Report stage, and then proceed to the Third Reading.