HC Deb 27 May 1919 vol 116 cc1063-6

Where the members of a local body other than the local authority are by law elected for wards or electoral divisions which are not coincident with the electoral areas formed under this Act the registration officer shall so frame the separate parts of the register for the several registration units in his registration area that they shall distinguish such wards or electoral divisions and be suitable for use at elections of members of such a local body as well as for such electoral areas.—[Mr. McGuffin.]

Brought up, and read the first time.


I beg to move, That the Clause be read a second time. I am glad to think that there is no suggestion of political bias about this Clause. There is unanimity so far as the Members for Belfast are concerned. The new Bill has introduced drastic alterations in connection with the electoral Divisions of Belfast. At present the city is divided into fifteen wards for municipal purposes. These wards are also the electoral areas for what are called the Water Commissioners of Belfast. The Belfast Water Commissioners have no connection with the City of Belfast Corporation. They are a very important body. They have already expended in connection with the water supply of the city £2,225.000, and they contemplate a further expenditure of £750,000 in further improving the water supply of the city. Under Clause 1 of this Bill, Section 3, Sub-section (d), that it will be necessary that at least six members shall be elected in connection with each electoral Division. As there are at present sixty members of the Corporation, it will be evident that the city is to be divided into ten electoral areas, and these ten electoral areas cannot possibly be coincident with the fifteen. This will necessitate the preparation of a register for the municipality in one case and the Water Commissioners in the other. We contend that that would be necessary in view of the fact that the Commissioners themselves have no power to make any register, and up to the present moment it has been obligatory on the City Clerk to provide the register that has been used by the Water Commissioners. We see at the moment no way out of this matter unless this Clause be introduced into the Bill, which will provide that the Registrar of the City, that will be the Town Clerk, shall provide for both cases. That is to say, that he shall construct two registers, one for the purpose of the ten electoral Divisions and the other for the existing fifteen wards.

It has been suggested by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Samuels), that there is ample provision in the Bill at the moment to satisfy the needs of the Water Commissioners, but we have taken the evidence of eminent counsel upon this matter, and he advises that as the Bill stands the needs of the Water Commissioners are not provided for. Accordingly, we have approached the right hon. Gentleman with a view of finding an accommodation upon the matter, but he still insists upon the opinion that it is provided for in the Bill and that there is no difficulty in that respect. I am not speaking from the standpoint of a lawyer, but as an ordinary layman, in saying that, on reading through the Bill, I cannot detect any provision that would safeguard the Water Commissioners against the exigency of confusion at the time of an election. The Water Commissioners cannot run the risk of confusion at the time of the coming election. For the last six years there has been no election of Water Commissioners in Belfast, by reason of the War. It is time that elections should take place, and, as they occur triennially, they will occur next March. It would be very embarrassing for the Water Commissioners if they found when the time for election came round that there was no properly prepared register for the purpose. The Water Commissioners want to make all necessary preparations for the holding of the elections next March. Speaking on behalf of the Members for Belfast, we are not satisfied with the Clause which has been introduced by the Attorney-General, and we think that there is nothing better to meet the need of the moment than the Clause now submitted. I therefore ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider the matter and to accommodate the Commissioners by adopting the Clause which we have submitted to the House.


I beg to second the Motion.

4.0 P.M.


I have very carefully considered the proposed Amendment, and I feel that I cannot accept it. I am anxious, as far as possible, to meet the apprehensions, which I think are entirely groundless, of my hon. Friends, and I am suggesting an Amendment lower down to insert, after the word "Division," the words "or wards," which would cover the apprehensions that are felt, even if there was any foundation whatever for them. This Clause is framed in general terms to cover the case of the Belfast Water Commissioners. My information from the Local Government Board is that there are a very large number of local bodies in Ireland who have private Acts for dealing with elections of such bodies. This Clause might produce a considerable amount of confusion. But I will deal with it on the line in which it is argued—that the Belfast Water Commissioners are injuriously affected by the Bill as it now stands. The Belfast Water Commissioners have a private Act of their own. The Commissioners are elected, one for each ward of the city, and there are certain Commissioners elected for rural districts. The register for the appointment of the Belfast Water Commissioners is kept under their own authority. They have their own revising officer, who deals with their register, and it is on a particular register that they are elected. Under the private Act, the returning officer for the City of Belfast must hand over to the revising officer for the Belfast Water Commissioners the register of the City of Belfast. The apprehension of my hon. Friend and, I presume, of those whom he represents, is that a new register will be formed without showing wards. That is quite a misapprehension. If he takes the Representation of the People Act (1918) he will see that under Rule 44 the register for Belfast must continue to be made up in wards. Whatever wards may exist in Belfast must appear in the register for the City of Belfast, and no difficulty whatever will occur, when the Water Commissioners come to make up their register, in ascertaining in the future, as they have ascertained in the past, who are the persons who are the electors in the particular wards.


Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether there will be two registers, one for the wards and one for the electoral divisions? That is the point of contention at the moment.


Supposing the wards are altered, the register in the future will have to be made up showing who are the local government electors in these wards, just as in the past. However the register is made up, the wards will have to appear in it, just as in the past. But I suggest to my hon. Friend that the Amendment I have put down will be satisfactory.

Question put, and negatived.