§ Order of the day for the Third Reading read.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Viscount Peel.)
§ On Question, Bill read 3a.
§ LORD STUART OF WORTLEY moved the insertion, after Clause 7, of a new clause (Register for wards to be continued). The noble Lord said: My Lords, before this Bill is passed I wish to propose an Amendment which is before your Lordships in the sense that it has been printed and circulated, as I understand, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Granard, who had undertaken to move it. I ask your Lordships' leave to move that Amendment, not at the request, it is true, of the noble Earl in whose name it stands, because he has abandoned his intention of moving it, considering that his position as a Government official precludes him from undertaking it. I have been satisfied, nevertheless, that the same reasons which persuaded the noble Earl to put it down on the Paper are good 966 reasons why the Amendment should be recommended to your Lordships.
§ There exists in the City of Belfast a statutory body called the Belfast Water Commissioners, who are charged with the duty of managing the water supply of that city. This body has a statutory constitution, consisting of two nominated or ex-officio members and fifteen elective members. The election of the elective members is based upon the municipal franchise of the City of Belfast. Hitherto the City of Belfast has been divided into fifteen wards, and therefore, of course, the election of these fifteen elective members to this particular Water Commission was easy enough.
§ But now comes this Bill, which says that the number of the municipal council of the City of Belfast shall not be changed, but that the number of wards shall be changed. In future the number of wards is going to be ten instead of fifteen, and the councillors are to be divided into groups of six. There is no way of dividing a total number of sixty by six which will give you fifteen; accordingly it has been proposed in the clause which I ask leave to move that it shall be the duty of the registration officer to frame the separate parts of the register in such a way as to meet the difficulty which thus arises. At present this statutory body of Water Commissioners is entitled by its Act of Parliament to receive a copy of the register. Noble Lords will see that if this disturbance is made in what may be called the fractional basis upon which their elective constitution rests, they might be told that there was no register in existence; they might even find that their elective members could not be elected, and it is very difficult to see what the consequences of that might be.
§ As showing that I do not move this without good reason, I may tell your Lordships that the Belfast Water Commissioners have been advised by an eminent English counsel, Mr. Macmorran, who is well known as an author of treatises and a high authority on municipal matters in Great Britain, that it is necessary to clear this up. The Irish Office, I understand, say it is not necessary; but in a case like this, where a proposal can do no harm—and that must be so, because this is the only body in Ireland or elsewhere to which this particular clause could possibly in its wording apply—and where a doubt exists, 967 I think the presumption should go in favour of those who ask that the doubt should be cleared up.
After Clause 7 insert the following new clause:
§ "Register for wards to be continued.
§ ".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 and lawfully available for use at elections of members of such a local body as well as for such electoral areas."—(Lord Stuart of Wortley.)
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
Your Lordships will agree with one proposition advanced by my noble friend—that there is no way of dividing sixty by six in order to produce a quotient of fifteen. That seems to be demonstrably impossible. But this difficulty, I understand, has arisen because electoral areas have been set up in this Bill which would be different from the old wards in which the Belfast Water Commissioners elected their members. My noble friend suggests that there will be considerable difficulty because although the register for the electoral area will be handed to the Belfast Water Commissioners, yet it will not be divided into the old wards, and therefore it will be difficult for them to bold their election under the pre-existing system. I am advised that there really will be no difficulty, because the old ward areas will still be retained; indeed, under the Bill they are retained, as the noble Lord will see.
Moreover, I understand that it will still be the duty of the authority to frame this new register for the electoral areas showing the old ward divisions. I understand that there has arisen some mistake because the Representation of the People Act, 1918, was examined, and not that part which applies to Ireland. If my noble friend will look at Rule 44 of the Act of 1918 he will see that the register for Belfast must continue to be made up in the case of wards. That really seems to settle the question and make the matter perfectly clear. The Amendment is framed in general words as if it were applied to the whole of Ireland, but I understand that in effect it is really drawn up to meet the 968 special case of Belfast. For that reason I answer the Amendment moved by my noble friend purely on the Belfast case, which, it seems perfectly clear, is settled under Rule 44. Therefore the Amendment would appear to be unnecessary.
§ On question, Amendment negatived.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
My Lords, the pace at which this Bill has been taken through its various stages has prevented me from being able to put before the Government a really very important consideration which. I think, has a perfect right to a place in the Bill—namely, that of the large number of premises which are at present disfranchised for municipal purposes by being in the hands of limited companies. What is desired in municipal matters is to get the opinion and votes of those who will be affected by changes in municipal policy, and at present, especially in the larger towns, a very large disfranchisement has taken place of the premises which are in the hands of limited companies.
I have put before the noble Viscount an Amendment dealing with this matter. I know that the noble Viscount will argue that this Bill does not disturb the existing franchise but only regulates the taking of elections. But if he is disposed to take that view, I would refer him to the title of the Bill. It is "An Act to amend further the law relating to local government in Ireland, and for other purposes connected therewith." I believe that this would cover a Home Rule Bill, or anything which was not Imperial, and to say that it does not cover a clause of this kind would really be a stretch of the imagination. Again, if the noble Viscount would turn to Clause 8 of the Bill he would find that there is a provision for the protection of existing local officers: this may be a very valuable provision, but it has nothing whatever to do with the redistribution of electoral operations.
Therefore I hope that the noble Viscount will, even now at the last hour, consider whether this will not really carry out the intention of the Government. The intention of the Government is to give a much better opportunity to minorities, and having regard to the fact that in Ireland so very much of the capital and interest of minorities are, at this moment, in the hands of limited companies, it does seem 969 an extreme exercise of the old restricted franchise that they should not be allowed in the case of a limited company to have any vote whatever in a matter in which they have so large a stake. I could mention cases in which distributions of dividends amounting to hundreds of thousands of pounds a year are at this moment going on upon premises which are practically unrepresented from the point of view of this Bill. For that reason I beg to move the Amendment which I will now read to your Lordships.
Insert the following new clause:
.Where a corporation or limited company registered under the Companies Acts is on the last day of the qualifying period (as defined by the Representation of the People Act, 1918) occupying as owner or tenant any land or premises in an electoral area, and has during the whole of such qualifying period so occupied any land or premises in that area, each governor or director for the time being of such corporation or director for the time being of such limited company shall be entitled to be registered as a local government elector for such electoral area if such governor or director is of full age and not subject to any legal incapacity."—(Viscount Midleton.)
THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE)
My Lords, I have no knowledge of the merits of this proposal. But one of the few Rules of Order of your Lordships' House that I have never yet known to be broken is that an Amendment may not be moved on Third Reading without having been printed and circulated. I have no right, of course, to call your Lordships' attention to this any more than any other member of the House, but I have a recollection of some years and can certainly never remember that course being permitted.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD BIRKENHEAD)
Like the noble Earl the Lord Chairman I have no right to give any opinion on points of order; but it is my view also, after studying the Rules, that to make such an Amendment without notice is entirely out of order.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I, of course, have even less right than either of the noble Lords who have already spoken on the matter to say anything about the question of notice. My objection to the Amendment is that it is not relevant to this Bill. I might point out to the noble Viscount that, although he referred to the title, this 970 Bill has nothing to do with the franchise; it is merely a Bill to alter electoral areas and to enable elections to be taken under the principle of proportional representation.
Further, I hope the noble Viscount will not urge an Amendment setting up an invidious preference for Ireland. My noble friend knows that these difficulties also exist in England, and that they were discussed when the Franchise Bill was before the House some little time ago. No doubt it is very hard on limited companies, representing large sums of money, that they should not have this franchise. I trust that my noble friend, impressed by this double—I might say treble—set of objections, will not try to insist on behalf of Ireland upon having some special preference which we in England, if we were deprived of having it, would very much resent. I hope, therefore, that the noble Viscount will not press an Amendment which is doubly out of order.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
After the appeals that have been made to me, I cannot press my Amendment. I am certain, however, that there were not half-a-dozen Peers who were aware on Thursday last that the House was going to sit to-day, much less that the Third Reading of this Bill was to be taken. The Government have, no doubt unintentionally, stolen a march upon us. There was the strongest possible feeling that this Bill required more time for discussion, and we had asked about it before. It may be said, of course, that whatever time might have been given the Government would have adhered to the view they have now expressed with regard to the Amendment. Nevertheless, I hope that my noble friend has not been so long upon that Bench that he has become impregnated with the worst practices indigenous to it, and that in future we shall have ample time afforded so that we may not come up without having our friends present to support us, nor be unable to discuss matters. I am convinced that at some time or another it will be necessary, both in Ireland and in Great Britain, to give public companies some share in the direction of municipal affairs. I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Bill passed.