HL Deb 02 July 1895 vol 35 cc62-74

On the Order for the Second Reading of this Bill,

THE EARL OF ARRAN rose and said, before the noble and learned Lord (Lord Herschell) moves the Second Reading of this Bill, I should like to ask whether it ought to be taken at all to-day. It will be in the recollection of the House that on the day the resignation of the late Ministry was announced the Prime Minister said, as I understood him, that no contentious business should be taken before the Dissolution. I further seem to remember that when the Duke of St. Albans asked whether the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill would be proceeded with Lord Rosebery distinctly stated that it would not, because it was contentious business; and, with that mixture of banter and sarcasm of which he is such a master, said he envied the state of mind of any man who could look on that Bill as not being a contentious Bill. The present Bill is not only contentious, but of the utmost political importance, and I would therefore ask whether we ought to take this Bill at all?


I am not aware that any pledge was given that no contentious business should be taken. It was announced, in accordance with the usual practice, that no contentious business would be taken when one Government had resigned and the other was not formed. There wag no Member of the Government present on the occasion to which the noble Earl refers who was capable of dealing with questions that might arise. Since then a Government has been formed who will be perfectly able to express an opinion on this Bill, and I know of no rule of the House, certainly of no pledge, that would prevent this measure from being taken. Considering that it has come up to this House from the House of Commons, and is looked upon with great interest by many persons in Ireland, I think it would be exceedingly unfortunate that it should not be taken, and that we should adjourn the House and do nothing. It would be much more in accordance with what is desirable—and I had almost said seemly—that the House should proceed to the business before it. I see no reason why I should not move the Second Reading.


Then, as I understand Lord Herschell, so far as the then Government were concerned, they were of opinion that contentious business ought not to be proceeded with.


Only during the interregnum when there was no Government.


Then, as I understand now, Lord Herschell considers that it is a matter for the present Government to decide whether contentious business ought to be taken. In these circumstances it seems to me that it is a perfectly fair appeal for my noble Friend to make to the Government, and that is a question for them to decide and determine. Of course, we are all aware of the very peculiar circumstances under which this Bill passed through the other House of Parliament. The noble and learned Lord says that great interest is taken in it in certain quarters in Ireland. That is perfectly true, but, on the other hand, there is very keen feeling against it in other parts of the country. I should therefore venture to hope that the Government will say that they consider this a contentious Bill, and, in the peculiar circumstances of the situation, should not be proceeded with.


said, that he was present on the occasion referred to, and, according to his recollection, what was said was that no contentious business of any kind would be taken during the remainder of the Session. He hoped that the Bill would not be proceeded with.


I can say most positively that all we engaged to do was to take care that no contentious business should be taken during the interregnum. It is, of course, for the House to decide whether any fresh business shall be undertaken now. We did not give any pledge with regard to that.


I was not present at the time, and, therefore, I cannot say what occurred from personal recollection. But I rather doubt whether any person in this House was competent to give a pledge of the kind described, and I am not sure that the late Prime Minister represented this House so overwhelmingly that he was more competent to give such a pledge than any one else. On the whole it seems to me that it would be more regular to proceed with the Bill. At least, I cannot remember any case of a Bill having been ruled out on grounds of this kind when the Ministry was formed, and the House was again in full action.


then rose to move the Second Reading of the Bill, which, he said, ought not to be regarded as a contentious measure. It consisted of 26 clauses, 17 of which were passed elsewhere without any opposition or amendment, except that in one clause a motion was made to omit the words which would give the proposed Franchise to Ireland. The amendments, with that exception, were directed to nine only of the clauses of the Bill. The Second Reading was agreed to without any adverse vote, and the Bill was referred to a Standing Committee, which reported it to the House without amendment. A motion to recommit the Bill to the Whole House was defeated by a majority of 62. That majority was somewhat in excess of the normal majority which the late Government possessed in the House of Commons, and, therefore, it was very significant of the approval with which the Bill was viewed. That majority would not have been obtained for the Bill if there had not been a feeling in its favour outside the ranks of the supporters of the late Government. The state of opinion in the House of Commons, as disclosed by this majority, ought, he thought to have great weight with their Lordships, The Bill dealt with the subject of municipal franchise in Ireland. For upwards of 20 years Bills had been brought forward from time to time with the object of amending the law relating to the municipal franchise in that country. The state of things that existed in Ireland did not exist here, and would not be allowed to exist here for a single Session. They heard very often of the propriety of dealing with Irish questions as they would with English questions, but he had observed that, whilst that was a proposal which found the utmost favour in the abstract, when they came to the concrete it was often much less favourably received. However, he thought he should be able to satisfy their Lordships that there was in this case an undoubted evil to be met, and that the Bill dealt with it as it ought to be dealt with. He would call attention to some striking figures which were placed before the other House for the purpose of showing how different the municipal franchise was in Ireland from the municipal franchise in England. A comparison was made of towns of about the same size in England and Ireland, and of the number of burgesses in them who could take part in municipal elections. For example, Bristol and Dublin had approximately the same populations, the population of Dublin, however, being some 40,000 more than the population of Bristol. On the Bristol burgess roll there were 27,600 names, and on the Dublin burgess roll only 6,644. Again, Cardiff had a population of 82,000 and Cork one of 80,000, but in the former place there were 11,400 names on the burgess roll, while in the latter there were only 2,059. Cambridge had a population of 35,363 and Limerick of 38,000, but Cambridge had 5,400 burgesses, whilst Limerick had only 457. Canterbury, with a population of 21,000, had 3,090 burgesses, but Waterford, with a population of 22,000, had only 679 burgesses. He would not trouble the House with further figures. It was indisputable that, whilst in England a large proportion of the population in boroughs had a voice in the management of municipal affairs, in Ireland in many boroughs the number was extremely limited of those who possessed that privilege. Yet the Parliamentary Franchise was enjoyed by large numbers of people in these Irish boroughs. For example, in Dublin there were 30,000 names on the Parliamentary register, in Cork 11,500, and in Limerick 4,927. Of course, as these persons were deemed capable of taking part in Parliamentary elections which might have great influence on Imperial affairs and in legislation, they must be deemed capable of taking part in the management of their municipal affairs. Was it not absurd that in Limerick, for example, 4,900 persons could take part in Parliamentary elections, whilst only a mere handful of burgesses were given the right to vote in respect of the local affairs of the town? What were some of the results of the anomalies to which he had called attention? In Derry City, although the Catholics exceeded the Protestants by 3,000, not a single Catholic of the community was ever elected on the town council. Could that be considered right? All the places over which the Corporation had control were filled by Protestants in this town where the majority of the inhabitants were Catholics. The following were the offices which were filled by Protestants:— Town clerk, city solicitor, assistant town clerk, assistant clerk, treasurer, city surveyor, city analyst, superintendent of markets, superintendent of cemetery, sword bearer, four sanitary officers, executive sanitary officer, mace bearer, four assistant sanitary officers, four sergeants of the mace, superintendent of the fire brigade, three watermen, caretaker of the reservoir, and electrical superintendent. That these offices should all be filled by Protestants must produce a bitter feeling. It was a remarkable fact that in these matters there seemed to be more liberality among Roman Catholics than among Protestants. Roman Catholic constituencies in Ireland returned Protestants to Parliament, but where Protestants had the ascendency a Roman Catholic could not even obtain an appointment under a town council. The substantial effect of this Bill would be to put the qualification for the municipal franchise in Ireland on the same basis as in England. There was, however, one unimportant variation from the English law in the Bill. Whilst a period of 12 months' residence as well as occupation was required in England, it was proposed to require only six months' residence in Ireland in addition to 12 months' occupation. The explanation of this variation was that under the Irish Municipal Act of 1840 the period of residence required was six months. That period had been retained, but in every other respect if this Bill passed the qualification would be assimilated to the English qualification. Surely it was expedient that the principle of representation for municipal purposes should rest on a broad basis in Ireland as well as in England. When the change was effected for England fears respecting the results were expressed, but the evils which were anticipated had not come to pass. He could not himself see why the same process should not be applied to Ireland, why Parliament should not there as here bring within the sphere of municipal life as many citizens as had been found possible in the case of England. With regard to the other part of the Bill which applied the same alteration of the franchise to towns which were riot municipal boroughs, he admitted there was more to be said, although to his mind the same reasoning which required Parliament to do it in the case of boroughs would lead to its extension to towns outside the list of municipal boroughs. At the same time, there were, no doubt, certain practical difficulties in the latter case. It was impossible not to recognise that the Session was not likely to be prolonged, and if it were impossible to pass the whole measure he should be quite prepared to leave out the 23rd clause, which dealt with the extra-municipal boroughs, and to confine the Bill to the first part, which related to the municipal boroughs and placed them on the same footing as municipal boroughs in England Of course, he should prefer to retain the old period of six months' residence, because it had been the period existing since 1840 in Ireland. There would be no great advantage in altering it from six to twelve mouths, and unless something was to be gained it seemed undesirable to make a change of that description. With regard to the noble Earl who did not wish the Bill to be taken at all, thereby throwing to the winds the labour which had been already spent upon it, and leaving the Irish municipalities in a position in which he would have thought no Liberals would desire to see them remain, he pointed out that, if the House of Commons had objected to any of the proceedings of the Grand Committee, it was in the hands of the House to express its opinion. The House emphatically, and by no Party vote, expressed its opinion, because by a majority of 62 it declined to recommit the Bill. As a matter of fact the Bill was largely discussed in Committee, but none of the Amendments were carried. The complaint, therefore, was that, although the Amendments proposed were all thought by the promoters to be vicious in principle, they were nevertheless bound to allow them to be carried against their judgment in order that, when the Bill was reported to the House, it might undergo another stage there. Of course, what was desired was to get rid of the Bill. There were those no doubt—their Lordships had seen symptoms of it this afternoon—who would be only too glad to get rid of it. ["Hear, hear!'' from the Cross-Benches.] "Hear, hear!" said a noble Lord. The Tories were not altogether extinct yet, but unfortunately one perceived there were some who called themselves Liberals who did not want this Bill to pass into law, but would allow a state of things which they would not endure for a moment if it existed in this country. It would be very unfortunate indeed if this Bill were rejected by this House. Certainly there would be very great disappointment if it did not pass. He submitted that this was a case in which the House ought to comply with the demands of those who wished to see equal treatment of the two countries, and not leave the municipal franchise in Ireland in a condition so intolerable as that which existed at present; a case in which they ought to use their best endeavours, even if it called for some zeal and activity on the part of this House, to remove a real grievance and a blot on the legislation of this country.


had heard the noble and learned Lord make many speeches on Irish questions, and had come to the conclusion that there was no Member of their Lordships' House who was his rival in playing bad cards well—by which he meant putting forward a really bad case in the best possible light. The noble and learned Lord to-day had put forward a really bad case with the most consummate skill, ability, and a plausibility to such an extent that really, if their Lordships had not been acquainted with the details of the Bill, they would have been justified in coming to the conclusion that those who opposed the Bill were absolutely incorrect in doing so. In his opinion, however, the Bill was an imperfect and ill-considered measure, and, unless materially altered, would he fraught with injustice to certain classes and sections of the community in Ireland. The Bill was rushed through the Grand Committee, and, in reply to the noble and learned Lord's observations on that point, all he could say was that, so far as he could gather from the votes, the minority were not allowed to alter one single sentence, one single word, one single comma of the Bill. Consequently, he said, the Bill was carried through the Grand Committee under false pretences, for it went to the Grand Committee under the assurance of the Chief Secretary, Mr. Morley, who declared that, if there were any serious abuse of the powers of the majority in the Grand Committee, any tyrannical over-riding of the minority, it is open to the House to recommit the Bill, and it would be in the power of the House to discuss every clause in it. He ventured to say there was tyrannical overriding of the minority. Their views, their wishes were entirely ignored. And that they were justified in putting those views and wishes forward, he maintained, was proved by the speech of the noble and learned Lord, wherein he proposed now to accept the very points on which the minority in the Committee insisted, but in which they were overruled by—if he might use a commonplace and vulgar expression—the brute force of the majority. Considering the conduct of the measure, he maintained that their Lordships would be absolutely justified in rejecting it. But he should be the last person to approve of such a course. He agreed that there was a great deal in the measure which would remedy abuses which ought not to exist, but, at the same time, he asserted it was the duty of their Lordships to insist that the details put forward by the minority, and to a great extent accepted by the noble and learned Lord, should be carried into effect, and that the Bill should be, sent back to another place in a condition qualified to do justice to all parties and sections of the community in Ireland. So far as he could gather from the Debate on the Third Reading, even Mr. Healy seemed to rely on this House to deal with this measure, and to correct its deficiencies, and Mr. Balfour had laid down what virtually it was the duty of the House of Lords to do in relation to this matter. Mr. Balfour said— I object to this procedure as a Member of the House of Commons, and I do object to it still more when I reflect upon the duties which it will throw upon the House of Lords. I have never undervalued the position of the House of Lords in respect of legislative work; but to ask that House to do all the detailed work which we ought to do and do not do, to throw upon, them the responsibility of making the unworkable workable, to ask them to provide the machinery which we have been too idle to provide, to ask them to remedy injustice to which we have deliberately shut our eyes, would be to invest the House of Lords with an importance of which I, as a Member of the House of Commons, should be extremely jealous.'' After that statement of the Leader of the Opposition, he maintained it was their duty to seriously consider every one of the important details of this measure, and he would indicate the points on which he thought their lordships must give a decision, and which must certainly be altered before the Bill left that House. He contended, in the first place, that the measure did not comply with the understanding with which it left the House of Commons. He objected to the measure, in the second place, because, whilst it had been put forward as following exactly the English precedent, there were many points in which the Bill differed entirely from the English law. With regard to the period of residence, the Bill fixed it at six months, whereas in England that period was 12 months. He understood, however, that the noble and learned Lord did not object to the same principle as to the residential period being extended to Ireland as now prevailed in England. He should like to draw attention to the fact that the incidence of taxation was totally different in Ireland to what it was in England. In this country all the occupiers were liable to pay, but in Ireland the liability to pay poor rates rested entirely on the landlord in all cases where the valuation was £4 and under, and the landlord was under a similar liability to pay municipal rates where the valuation was £8 and under. The Bill, therefore, as it at present stood, proposed to create a large electorate, having the power to impose taxation upon everyone but themselves, and having the power to control expenditure to which they contributed nothing whatever. He turned now to Clause 4, the language of which, to his mind, was not only extremely ambiguous, but capable of being read in two different ways. Under the conditions of Clause 4, as he read it, it would appear that an unlimited number of persons might occupy and vote from premises of the lowest rateable value. For example, 500 people might obtain votes from a house valued, say, at 5s., provided that they "occupied" the house for three months, and resided within seven miles of the borough, town or township; or an unlimited number of persons might obtain votes for a single apartment in a house, provided that they occupied it for the purpose of any trade, residence, &c., the effect of this being that the persons who did not contribute directly a farthing to the rates of a municipality might direct and control its expenditure. There was a considerable diversity of opinion as to the reading of the clause, and the easiest course would be to simplify the matter by explaining what was meant by it. As the noble and learned Lord had stated that he was prepared to eliminate Clause 23, he had nothing further to say except to suggest that this question should be considered in detail in their Lordships' House. It was a subject which required the closest investigation, and if their Lordships were prepared to give it that searching investigation he had no objection to the second reading being carried without a division.


thought the speech of the noble Marquess would have convinced the noble and learned Lord opposite that whatever else this Bill might be it certainly was not a non-contentious one. He thought, however the noble Marquess had taken a very proper course in the suggestion he he had made that this Bill should receive a Second Reading, and should not meet with opposition at its present stage. What he wished to say on his own behalf, and he believed on behalf of his colleagues, was that they felt quite as strongly as the noble and learned Lord the necessity which undoubtedly existed for dealing with the question of the municipal franchise in Ireland. The noble and learned Lord had explained that his objects were two-fold. The one was to secure that that municipal franchise should rest upon a wider basis than hitherto, and the other was that that franchise should be as far as possible assimilated to that which obtained in England. There was one point and only one to which he should like to call the noble and learned Lord's attention, and that was that under the municipal franchise he was about to create by this Bill it would be enjoyed by a large number of occupiers of premises rated below £4. As the noble Lord would remember, the rates for premises under £4 in Ireland were paid entirely by the landlord. He merely pointed that out as showing that the noble and learned Lord's intention of entirely assimilating the franchise in the two countries under this Bill might be open to this criticism. Generally speaking, he could only repeat he believed they were all agreed it was absolutely necessary that this question should be dealt with, and the suggestion he ventured to offer to his noble Friend was that the Bill should be now read a second time, and the points he had so clearly enumerated, with others which would probably occur to Members of the House, should be dealt with on the further stages of the Bill—namely, the Standing Committee, to which it would probably be referred.


, while cordially approving the Second Reading of the Bill, suggested that it should be sent to a Select Committee rather than to the Standing Committee. If it were to be referred only to the Standing Committee, it would die with the expiring Parliament, but a Select Committee could, he believed, always be revived. If a Select Committee were nominated now it would be possible on the meeting of the next Parliament to move that the Committee already appointed should be re-appointed, in order to consider the whole measure.


thought that any Motion to refer the Bill to a Select Committee would be tantamount to killing it at once, because it was obvious, at the period at which they had arrived with reference to this Parliament, it would be impossible to strike a Select Committee, and it would be still more impossible that that Select Committee would have the power to deal with the Bill before the session terminated. In his opinion, the Standing Committee would be the proper tribunal, and unless any Motion to the contrary were made, the Bill, under the Standing Orders, would go before the Standing Committee, which was the tribunal to which he proposed it should be referred.


could not say he felt otherwise than relieved after listening to the speech of the noble Marquess opposite, who, he thought, was going to unearth some very serious evils in this Bill, of which no one had hitherto dreamt. But the noble Marquess had pointed to a very limited number of objections to it. The question of residence, of course, was one which could be dealt with by the slightest possible alteration. With reference to Clause 4, he admitted opinions differed as to its effect, but the better opinion was that as it stood it carried out the views he (Lord Herschell) had expressed with regard to assimilating the law in Ireland and England. He would remind the noble Marquess that, in many boroughs in this country, the compound householder existed, and that compounding produced precisely the same effect as the rating in Ireland—namely, that the rates were paid by the owner; but, nevertheless, the occupier in this country had the Municipal vote. As time was of the utmost value if this Bill was to pass at all, he would suggest that he should put it down for Friday. If he put it down for Thursday there would be time for no Amendments to be placed on the Paper. In the meantime he would put it down for Friday. The questions raised could then be considered, he undertaking to strike out Clause 23. If the Bill were passed through Committee and the other stages on Friday it could go down to the other House, and it would not then be lost. That was the only possible course he could see to prevent the destruction of the Bill.

Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the whole House on Friday next.