§ Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [28th April], "That the Lords Amendments be now taken into consideration."
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
I find it necessary to ask the House to agree to the further adjournment of the debate. When the question last came up, about three weeks ago, on the 28th of April, the adjournment of the debate was ordered, because the House of Lords had struck out of the Bill a clause extending the franchise of the town of Belfast. We felt in the House that it was necessary to give the ratepayers control over the execution of this scheme of main drainage, seeing that it involved an expenditure of £500,000. The clause struck out of the Bill in the House of Lords provided the necessary machinery for conferring this control upon the ratepayers, and it was felt that until some steps could be taken, to extend the local government of Belfast so as to give the general body of ratepayers, not only control over the execution of the works, but also some control over the expenditure connected with the scheme, it was undesirable to pass the measure itself. The object of the adjournment was to afford time to both Houses of Parliament to consider the question of the extension of the franchise in a more regular manner in regard to the various boroughs of Ireland. I moved on that occasion the postponement of the consideration of this Bill until the 20th of July, because I felt that, having regard to the state of Public Business, an adjournment for three weeks would be insufficient for the purpose. But, in deference to the suggestion of the Chairman of Ways and Means, I amended the proposal by moving that the debate should be adjourned until the present day; but, as I then anticipated, the interval which has elapsed has been insufficient for the purpose. The Franchise Bill of the hon. Baronet the Member for Mid Armagh (Sir James Corry) has not yet left the House of Commons, although it has reached the 652 Committee stage. It came on this morning at 3 or 4 o'clock, far too late to enable the House to consider the Bill, and in the absence of the Members of the Government who were competent to deal with the question. If it had not been for that circumstance, the Bill might have been passed through Committee this morning, and have been down for a, third reading to-day. I hope that it will pass through Committee to-night, and go up to the House of Lords before the holidays, so that before the date which I originally fixed—the 20th of July—it may be passed into law. But if we proceed to-day to discuss the Lords' Amendments, I shall be compelled to move that the House disagree with them seriatim, and I shall be obliged to make each of them the subject of a Division.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but I must point out that he has already spoken on the Motion before the House.
§ MR. CONWAY (Leitrim, N.)
I beg to move that the consideration of the Lords' Amendments be postponed until the 20th of July.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)
Upon the point of Order, Sir, may I ask whether an hon. Gentleman who moves the adjournment is not capable of continuing the discussion on another occasion?
§ MR. SPEAKER
No. The hon. Member who moved the adjournment has exhausted his right, having already addressed the House. May I also point out that the date moved by the hon. Member for Leitrim is a rather distant one? I had, on another occasion, to rule that the postponement of a Bill until so late a date as that would virtually defeat the measure. I would, therefore, ask the hon. Member to propose a nearer date, in accordance with the ordinary practice of the House.
§ MR. CONWAY
In compliance with your suggestion, Sir, I will move that the debate be adjourned until the 20th of June.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "on Monday 20th June."—(Mr. Conway.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. EWART (Belfast, N.)
I shall oppose that Motion. When this Bill 653 was last before the House the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) moved the adjournment until the 20th of July, on the ground that the House, in the interval which would elapse, would pass the Bill for the extension of the franchise, whereupon the Chairman of Ways and Means proposed that the consideration of the Lords' Amendments should be postponed until the 20th of May—this day—in order that, in the interval, steps should be taken to push forward the Bill which then stood in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Armagh (Sir James Corry). Since then my hon. Friend has entered into an engagement to limit the provisions of that Bill to the borough of Belfast, and that engagement has been accepted by Members on this side of the House, and by certain hon. Gentlemen opposite. In the interval which has elapsed my hon. Friend has done everything that was possible to carry out that arrangement. The Bill has been blocked, and has mot with opposition in several quarters; but, acting in good faith, with a sincere desire to carry out the arrangement now come to, my hon. Friend succeeded in getting the block removed, and the Bill came before the House last night. [Mr. SEXTON: NO; this morning.] Or, rather, this morning. The Bill was again opposed by hon. Gentlemen opposite, on the ground that it limited the extension of the franchise to the borough of Belfast. Hon. Members below the Gangway contend that all Ireland should be included; but I may point out that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Armagh would not have succeeded in getting the block removed, and thereby would not have been enabled to bring the Bill on at all last night, unless he had entered into the understanding that the provisions of the measure should be limited to the borough of Belfast. Unless my hon. Friend had done that, it would have been simply impossible to bring the measure forward; and, under these circumstances, it would be dishonourable on our part to give any aid to any measure which goes further than the extension of the municipal franchise to the borough of Belfast. For these reasons, I feel it impossible to accede to the Motion of the hon. Member for Leitrim. The Bill for the extension of the franchise will come before the House this evening; and hon. Members, if they are willing to carry out the arrangement suggested 654 by the Chairman of Ways and Means, will be able to make progress with the Franchise Bill to their hearts' content.
§ MR. M. J. KENNY (Tyrone, Mid)
When the question was previously before the House I took occasion to point out the danger of allowing this Bill to leave the House of Commons until such time as we had previously secured the passage of the Municipal Franchise Bill. Now, Sir, since then the Municipal Franchise Bill has undoubtedly made very considerable progress, and there is no reason to doubt that it will pass this House in the course of a very few days. Under these circumstances, we are bound to ask whether the Municipal Franchise Bill will receive the same consideration in "another place" as it has received at our hands? Therefore, I think it is our duty to suspend the Belfast Main Drainage Bill until we have satisfied ourselves that that Bill has been passed in "another place." We have repeated precedents of such a course. We have the precedent of the Lords themselves, who have frequently suspended a Bill in that House pending the passage through this House of other Bills. Therefore, I think it is a precedent on which we may fairly act in this House also. It has been proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Leitrim to adjourn the debate upon this Bill until the 20th of July; but you, Sir, said that so long a postponement would have the effect of killing the Bill, and, acting upon your suggestion, my hon. Friend withdrew the original Motion, and substituted the 20th of June. The House is now about to adjourn for a fortnight; it will re-assemble on the 6th of June, and there will only be a space of 12 days, or less than two weeks, left with which any progress can be made with the Municipal Franchise Bill. I do not know whether the Town Council of Belfast will meet more than once or twice during that space of time, and I certainly fail to see how any rapid progress is to be made with the Bill before that date. As a matter of fact, the hon. Member for North Belfast (Mr. Ewart) would absolutely lose nothing by acceding to the Motion of my hon. Friend; because considering the time of year we have now arrived at, and the Recess which is about to take place, I cannot conceive how any further progress is to be made with the Main Drainage Bill, although it may be possible, on the other hand, to make 655 material progress with the Municipal Franchise Bill. Under these circumstances, as the hon. Gentleman cannot possibly be injured by the Motion of my hon. Friend, and seeing that the interests of those persons who are connected with the Main Drainage Bill cannot be damnified by a further postponement, I hope the hon. Gentleman opposite will have the grace to withdraw his opposition to the Motion of my hon. Friend, and not put the House to the trouble of a Division.
§ MR. JOHNSTON (Belfast, S.)
I also feel it my duty to oppose the Motion. It will be in the recollection of hon. Members that the influence of the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means induced the House to consent to the adjournment of the Bill until this day. It will be a serious inconvenience and a great loss to the town of Belfast if there is any further postponement. The state of the Lagan River at the present moment is a disgrace to Belfast, and is a crying evil. The Belfast Town Commissioners have passed a Resolution almost unanimously, for I believe there wore only two dissentients, calling upon this House to consent to this Bill without any further delay. I hope, therefore, the House will consent to the Bill without any further postponement. Not only have the Town Commissioners of Belfast passed a Resolution in favour of the Main Drainage Bill, but another influential body has given its support to the scheme; and I think that is a sufficient proof that the people of Belfast want it. The Franchise Question has made considerable progress in this House, and if it has not made more progress hon. Members will be aware that that fact has not been owing to any action on the part of the promoters of the Main Drainage Bill. The municipal franchise would have been conferred by this House on the people of Belfast but for the opposition given to this Bill last month by the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton), who, notwithstanding the sympathy he has frequently expressed in this House towards the extension of the franchise to the people of Belfast, took the extraordinary course last night of opposing the Franchise Bill.
§ MR. JOHNSTON
If a Motion to report Progress is not opposition to a Bill I fail to understand what opposition is. I trust that the promoters of the Bill will have the support of the House on this occasion, and that no further Motion for the adjournment of the debate will be acceded to, so that the measure will now receive the consideration it deserves. I trust that the Lords' Amendments will be approved of, and that the Bill will be passed through its final stages in the interests of the people of Belfast.
§ MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
The hon. Member for South Belfast has, with his habitual inaccuracy, taken exception to what occurred this morning. Now, I gave no opposition to the Bill of the hon. Baronet the Member for Mid Armagh (Sir James Corry); but I believe that the course I took met with the general concurrence of the House. Previous to the Bill being reached there had been an exhaustive Sitting of 11 hours, and there were numerous important Amendments upon the Paper against the Bill. Many Members also had left the House; and, therefore, I felt it my duty to move that Progress should be reported. I am not an enemy to the Franchise Bill. I am a friend of the Bill, and those who are the enemies of the Bill, although they claim to be its friends, are hon. Gentlemen opposite. For some reasons, which I have not been able to fathom, the provisions of the Bill are now limited to the borough of Belfast. I wish to assure the House that they will make a great mistake, and produce a most profound resentment among the community of Belfast—a community already sufficiently troubled by a variety of other causes—if they attempt to pass this Bill, and impose a burden of £500,000 upon the people, if they do not take care that they give the people of Belfast some control over the execution of the works and the expenditure of the money. The hon. Member for South Belfast has stated that the people of that town are unanimously in favour of the main drainage scheme, and he has referred to the River Lagan, Why, at this moment the Lagan Pollution Committee have sent a telegram to me, which I have only just received, stating that they— 657Confidently expect my assistance in securing the postponement of the Main Drainage Bill pending the settlement of the franchise in accordance with the popular desire of the people of Belfast.Representations of a similar character reach me every day, and the hon. Gentleman knows very well that this scheme was prepared by a private Committee of the Corporation, and that it has never been submitted to the ratepayers at any public meeting, although public meetings have been held against it. Nevertheless, the hon. Member has the hardihood in this House—a House sitting in London, and not in Dublin—to say that the opinion of the community of Belfast is in favour of passing this Bill. It was at the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means that on the 28th of April we postponed the Bill, and the grounds on which that postponement took place have not yet been complied with. The object was to secure time for the passing of the Franchise Bill, and will any hon. Gentleman opposite say that there has not been sufficient time for that purpose? No doubt I proposed the adjournment of the Franchise Bill for two days for the purpose of consulting my Colleagues—namely, from Tuesday until Thursday. It must be remembered that the hon. Baronet the Member for Mid Armagh has materially altered the scope of the Franchise Bill. We claim that it should be passed for the whole of Ireland; but even if it be limited only to the town of Belfast, and is passed in that form, we shall be satisfied to withdraw our opposition to the Main Drainage Bill. It is idle to tell me that the Franchise Bill will be passed as soon as we have disposed of this Bill. I cannot forget that the Drainage Bill will place in the hands of a small ring in Belfast the power of spending £500,000 of the ratepayers, and by the time the Franchise Bill passes into law the people of Belfast may find themselves saddled with the payment of £35,000 a-year for 40 years to come. I tell you that if you pass this Bill I will go to Belfast and advise the ratepayers of that city, if they will listen to my voice, not to pay 1d. to the municipal rates until such arrangements are made as will enable them to exercise control over the expenditure of the rates. If that is done I fail to see how the main drainage scheme will be carried into operation. I was about to say, 658 when I was interrupted on a point of Order a short time ago, that in discussing this matter I should have to raise a Constitutional question. The House of Lords have, on technical grounds, struck out the Franchise Clause, which was inserted by the House of Commons, the ground being that no Notice of that clause was given by the promoters at the time the Bill was deposited. As a matter of fact, no such Notice could have been given, because the promoters had no intention of inserting the clause. If the House refuse to consent to the adjournment of the debate it will be my duty to go into that question at length, and to put it to the House whether the House of Lords are constitutionally entitled, upon a Standing Order intended to be used against the promoters of a Private Bill, to object to the Constitutional right of this House to make any amendment in a Bill which it is pleased to make? I have placed Notices on the Taper which I intend to submit for the amendment of the Municipal Franchise Bill. The object of those clauses is to provide that, at the next annual municipal election for Belfast after the passing of the Act, every seat in the Municipal Council shall become vacant as if the period of occupancy prescribed by law had expired, and that there shall be a new election for every seat in the Council; and also to provide that until the new Council shall have been elected no action shall be taken or liability incurred in respect of the main drainage scheme. The object of those clauses is to afford an opportunity to the people of Belfast for obtaining some real control over the execution of the works, and the expenditure which may be involved. Without some such provision it will take three years before the entire Municipal Council can be elected under the Franchise Bill. Only one-third of the Council retire this year, a second third next year, and the remaining third the year after. Therefore, three years will elapse before the ratepayers will obtain any control over the expenditure connected with the scheme. I denounce that as a mockery and a sham, and I claim the support of the Chairman of Ways and Means to the Motion made by my hon. Friend, not that I desire any prolonged adjournment which, Sir, in. your wisdom, as the Head of this House, you consider would be unreasonable, but a moderate adjournment which will 659 enable the House to prosecute the Bill of the hon. Baronet the Member for Mid Armagh, and to send it to the House of Lords, by which means only you will be able to get rid of the conflict which now exists between the two Houses, and which, if no means of that nature are taken, will inevitably lead to an angry debate.
§ MR. DE COBAIN (Belfast, E.)
I confess that I have been taken by surprise at the course which has been pursued in reference to this Belfast Main Drainage Bill. When this Bill was last before the House I was necessarily absent through a business engagement in Ireland; and I had hoped under those circumstances, in deference to the fact that I was unable to be present to represent the views of those who think with me in reference to this measure, that the promoters of it would have permitted it at that time to be adjourned; but they adopted the less chivalrous course of pressing it on when they knew I could not be present. The Main Drainage Bill now under consideration has the support of scarcely anybody outside the Corporation of Belfast. It is perfectly true, as the hon. Member for South Belfast (Mr. Johnston) has stated, that there have been two Resolutions arrived at by two Public Bodies in support of the Bill; but one of those Public Bodies—the Belfast Water Commissioners—passed a Resolution approving of a main drainage scheme, but not necessarily of this main drainage scheme. The Belfast Harbour Commissioners, another important Body, came to a decision to support the Bill; but the Resolution was brought forward at a meeting without due notice having been given, and it was not unanimously carried. With regard to the public feeling in relation to the Bill in Belfast, I may fairly and frankly state that no public meeting has been held in support of the provisions of the measure, whereas several public meetings, representing, among others, persons largely connected with the principal interests of Belfast, have been held, and have with unanimity condemned it. I think that, under such circumstances, to insist upon the House of Commons coming to a decision upon the merits of the question to-day would be exceedingly unfair to the ratepayers of Belfast. We have, at present, a limited municipal franchise. The municipal burgess roll consists of about 6,000 electors, whereas we have a Parliamentary 660 roll comprising 33,000 householders. I understand that a statutable enactment makes it binding in all the towns of England to call a town's meeting to approve of all public schemes which involve the expenditure of the ratepayers' money before they are carried into effect. Such a provision, unfortunately, does not apply to the town of Belfast. If it had done so, and the ratepayers had been required to consider the matter before the promoters brought their Bill into Parliament, I believe the people of Belfast would almost unanimously have condemned the provisions of the measure. I know that it is a painful matter to keep a public question like this dangling for so long a time, and that the argument against further delay derives some force from its being postponed more than once before. At the same time, no one can deny the equity and justice of the demand now made that the people who will be required to pay the cost of this main drainage scheme should have the right to say "Yea" or "Nay" to it. In deference to the opinion already expressed in this House, and the decision lately come to in regard to the Main Drainage Bill, it is only a matter of equity towards the people of Belfast that the measure extending the municipal franchise shall come into operation before this Bill finally becomes law. Under those circumstances, I do not see why the promoters should not consent to a further adjournment—that is to say, if they are sincere, and if they are really honest in desiring that the working people of Belfast should have the privilege which is already enjoyed by the working people of Dublin, and by every other great community in the Empire. I do not see why the working people of Belfast are not as capable and as fairly entitled to enjoy the privilege of the municipal franchise as any other community. I do not see why a measure of this kind, which proposes to impose a public debt upon the town of Belfast of £500,000, and to increase the municipal taxation to the extent of 20 per cent, should be hurried through the House, especially when it is perfectly notorious that there is an ample source of revenue in the hands of the Corporation which would enable them to carry out this main drainage scheme without adding one single 1d. to the rates. In a question which will so seriously effect the financial interests of the whole people, I think 661 the fairest course for the promoters to adopt would be to say—"We will suspend any action in regard to the passing of the Bill until all the ratepaying classes of Belfast and all the householders have an opportunity of expressing their concurrence in this Bill or their disapproval of it." I was sorry to see the Bill for the extension of the municipal franchise delayed again last night; but I must altogether dissent from the opinion expressed by the hon. Member for South Belfast (Mr. Johnston), that the delay was occasioned by the action of the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton). The hon. Member for West Belfast, no doubt, was of opinion that the hour was too advanced for the consideration of the question, and of all the Amendments which stood upon the Paper. In that opinion I cordially concurred. The hon. and learned Member for North Longford (Mr. T. M. Healy), and others sitting on the other side of the House below the Gangway, expressed not only an opinion in favour of the principle of the Bill, but in favour of the extension of the municipal franchise throughout the whole of the corporate boroughs of Ireland. From that view some hon. Gentlemen sitting on this side of the House appear to dissent. I myself have no objection to an extension of the municipal franchise to all the corporate towns of Ireland. But as yet we have only got an expression of a desire in that direction from the town of Belfast, and we are not aware that all other corporate towns of Ireland are in favour of an extension of the municipal franchise. In Belfast itself there have been public meetings held in opposition to this Bill, and in favour of the extension of the municipal franchise, so that we know the feeling of Belfast fully and clearly on the subject. I think that in deference to that feeling the House of Commons should permit this Bill to be further adjourned until such time as the municipal franchise has been extended, and we are in a position to recognize the fact that all the ratepaying people of Belfast will have an opportunity of expressing their concurrence in the scheme of the promoters, or their dissent from it.
§ THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Mr. COURTNEY) (Cornwall. Bodmin)
The House is in a position, I am afraid, of considerable embarrassment in respect of this Bill; and certainly, as far as I am myself concerned, I feel not 662 only in a position of some embarrassment, but also to a certain extent of vexation. I cannot help thinking that the proposal I made a few weeks ago ought to have been more successful in securing a satisfactory result than it has been. The situation is this. A scheme for the drainage of Belfast went last year before a Select Committee of this House—a Private Bill Committee. The hon. and learned Member for North Longford (Mr. T. M. Healy) a short time ago expressed the greatest confidence in the impartiality of Select Committees of this House.
§ MR. COURTNEY
Yes; where politics were not involved. But the method to be adopted in regard to the drainage of the town of Belfast is not a question involving politics; and, therefore, I can see no reason why the decision of a Private Bill Committee on this Bill should not receive the same support of this House which the decisions of Private Bill Committees usually receive. After the Bill came back to us from the Committee a clause was introduced into it on Report extending the municipal franchise in Belfast, and in that form it passed this House. The Bill then went up to the House of Lords, who struck out that clause, re-examined in detail the whole of the drainage scheme, heard all the opposition that could be made to it, and affirmed the propriety of the scheme generally. The scheme of drainage, therefore, which is contained in this Bill for the town of Belfast has been affirmed and sanctioned by Committees of both Houses, and that fact is undoubtedly one which deserves our consideration. That is the present situation. Although the Bill has been opposed by the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton), on the last occasion when the subject was before the House the hon. Member admitted that he was quite willing to allow the measure to go on if the municipal franchise were extended, so that his opposition was not to this scheme as a drainage scheme, but he desired to make it compulsory to proceed with the Bill for the extension of the franchise. What the hon. Member has stated to-day confirms that view—namely, that this scheme for drainage, whatever may have been said about it at any public meeting in Bel- 663 fast, is, on its merits, a drainage scheme which ought to receive the support of this House. It comes before us with the approval and the authority of two Committees, and with the implied approval of the hon. Member for West Belfast. When the question was under discussion on the last occasion, there was a Bill before the House promoted by the hon. Baronet the Member for Mid Armagh (Sir James Corry) for the extension of the franchise in certain boroughs in Ireland. [Mr. T. M. HEALY: Eleven in all.] I understood that the measure received general assent, not only on this side, but upon the other side of the House; and I suggested that if this Bill were postponed for three weeks there might be a prospect, in. the meantime, of pushing forward the Municipal Franchise Bill, and passing it into law. I had no idea at that time that the Bill would be cut down to a Bill for extending the franchise in Belfast only. That was no part of my idea, although, no doubt, it was for the purpose of putting that principle in operation in Belfast that the suggestion was then made. As soon as the proposal to postpone the Bill for some weeks was made, it was followed by the hon. Baronet the Member for North Antrim (Sir Charles Lewis), who intimated that if nobody else would block the Franchise Bill he would. The hon. Baronet did block the Bill; but the block was subsequently taken off, and we have been informed this afternoon that it disappeared in consequence of some arrangement that the provisions of the Franchise Bill should be confined to the town of Belfast. It must not, however, be forgotten that the Bill was also blocked by the hon. Member for Mid Cork (Dr. Tanner). The promoters of the Franchise Bill now feel under a debt of honour not to go on with it unless it is accepted upon those lines. I confess that, personally, I am sorry that the Bill has been restricted in its scope; but, at the same time, I believe there is a precedent for extending by a Public Bill the municipal franchise in one of the boroughs of Ireland. [Mr. T. M. HEALY: Dublin.] Yes; the City of Dublin. It is now proposed to proceed on the same lines in regard to the City of Belfast, leaving out the other 10 boroughs of Ireland. If the proposal to adjourn the present Bill until the 20th of June were coupled with an undertaking not to oppose the modified 664 Bill, I think the House might listen to the proposal for the further adjournment of the debate; but there would not be the slightest use in adjourning the debate until the 20th of June if it is understood that the progress of the Municipal Franchise Bill is to be blocked again, so that, in its modified shape, it will not be allowed to go on. The promoters of the Bill have pretty plainly intimated that they will not go on with it except in its modified form. Therefore, if that Bill cannot go on in any other shape than its restricted application to Belfast, the House, I think, had better come to a decision today as to whether it will accept this scheme of main drainage, approved, as it has been, by Private Bill Committees of both Houses, or whether it will refuse to assent to it in consequence of the state of the franchise in Belfast. That is the practical question, and I hope it will be decided in a practical manner. I confess, for my own part, that leaving the other 10 boroughs out of consideration, if the understanding is come to that the Bill for the extension of the franchise in Belfast alone will go on, it would not be reasonable to hang up the Drainage Bill until that measure becomes law. The hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) has a, number of Amendments on the Paper in reference to the Bill for the extension of the municipal franchise. I must tell him, however, that one of the clauses he proposes to insert is of an unusual and objectionable character, inasmuch as it requires that the operation of this particular Bill shall be hung up until the Municipal Council has been reconstituted.
§ MR. COURTNEY
The first clause which the hon. Member proposes may be admissible in an amended form, but the second clause which he proposes would not be admissible as an Amendment in the Bill in Committee. It is not within the scope of the Bill, and could not be introduced in Committee. It may be proposed on the Report stage, but not in Committee. I only desire that the hon. Member for West Belfast should not be under any misapprehension in that respect. The best way to get out of the difficulty in which we are now placed will be, I think, to agree 665 that the Municipal Franchise Bill should be extended to Belfast only; and if an arrangement of that kind is come to, then the promoters of the Bill might be satisfied to consent to an adjournment of the present debate until the 20th of June.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
The House will remember that when this Bill was under discussion on the last occasion I moved the adjournment of the debate until to-day. I did so on a perfectly distinct and specified ground. I stated that I did not know anything about the merits of the Bill itself, but that I considered it absurd to tax the people of Belfast to the extent of £500,000, with so limited a franchise in the town of Belfast itself. Well, Sir, there is a Bill now before the House for extending the franchise.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
I am in favour of extending the franchise generally in all the boroughs of Ireland, but I am not prepared to prevent Belfast from getting it because the majority of the House are not willing to confer it upon all the other boroughs. The difficulty which arose this morning in reference to the Franchise Bill arose from Members below the Gangway, and was in no way due to the hon. Baronet in charge of the Bill (Sir James Corry); and as my opposition was limited to the question of the franchise, I am bound to say that if the Bill goes to a Division I shall now support it.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)
With regard to what has fallen from the Chairman of Ways and Means I should like to say one or two words. It is perfectly correct that I said I had faith in the decision of a Committee of this House where politics are not concerned. No doubt, Select Committees of both Houses have approved of this main drainage scheme; but in this instance there is a distinct political issue raised, and although this House may approve, in the abstract, of the drainage of Belfast, or the drainage of the watershed of Central Africa, seeing that there would be no political question as to where the outfall should be, and would be in- different as to the cost of it; but when, in this particular instance, we have the additional fact that the entire Town Council of Belfast are opposed by the 666 general body of the ratepayers, although they are of the same religion and political principles as themselves, there must be something involved in the measure far beyond the ordinary engineering details of a Private Bill. We are told that there has been no town's meeting convened by the Town Council in support of the Bill, and I maintain that mere engineering matters sink into in-significance, and that the opposition to the measure arises from much more important principles. The real question is, have the people of Belfast had an opportunity of approving the measure? The Member in charge of the Franchise Bill is an expelled Member for one of the Divisions of Belfast, having been | expelled by the present Member for East Belfast (Mr. De Cobain), who had been borough cashier to the Corporation of Belfast at a salary of £1,000 a-year. The Corporation dismissed him from that position because he had the audacity to oppose the hon. Baronet the Member for Mid Armagh (Sir James Corry). The hon. Gentleman, nevertheless, persisted in his opposition to the hon. Baronet, and, notwithstanding the exercise of the entire power of the Town Council, succeeded in expelling the hon. Baronet from the representation of East Belfast. Her Majesty's Government, however, gave the hon. Member for Mid Armagh the usual consolation of a Baronetcy, and he has been returned since to represent Mid Armagh. That fact shows, I think, that a deep feeling exists in the town of Belfast upon these questions. Perhaps the House will allow to me to refer for a moment to the argument of inconvenience. I presume that Her Majesty's Government are seriously anxious to save the time of the House, and if the time of the House is wasted the Government have only themselves to thank for the shuffling way in which they have treated the matter. Ton days ago I asked the Government if they were going to support the Motion of the hon. Baronet to confine the Franchise Bill to Belfast alone. The First Lord of the Treasury said he could not answer the Question; and, therefore, I put the same Question to the Under Secretary for Ireland, and he said that at the proper time he would answer the Question. Now, "the proper time" occurred very late at night, and neither the Attorney General for Ireland, nor the Chief Secretary, nor the Under Se- 667 cretary chose to be in his place, although they were all in their places a few moments before, when a Division was taken on the Criminal Law Amendment (Ireland) Bill. The moment the Division was taken they skedaddled, well knowing that this Bill was coming on. Now, I considered that that was a most unfair way in which to treat the House, and I said I would not allow the House to go into Committee until we had a statement from the Government. Upon the distinct understanding that the Bill was to extend to the whole of Ireland I did not oppose the Motion for going into Committee. It was not until pressure was put on the hon. Member for North Antrim (Sir Charles Lewis) from his own side that the block he had placed against the Bill was withdrawn, and we are now told that the block was only withdrawn on the distinct understanding with the hon. Baronet the Member for North Antrim that the provisions of the Bill shall only apply to the borough of Belfast. But there was another block against the Bill, which had been placed on the Paper by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Cork (Dr. Tanner).
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Cork never acts with indiscretion, but as a matter of principle. My hon. Friend withdrew the block on an appeal being made to him from this side of the House, and the block of my hon. Friend was removed by us, just as the block of the hon. Baronet the Member for North Antrim was removed by hon. Gentlemen opposite. We made a compact with the hon. Member for Mid Cork to withdraw his block, hearing that, in that case, the hon. Member for North Antrim would remove his block also. But we were not informed—and I trust the Chairman of Ways and Means will see that this is a substantial matter—we were not informed that any terms whatever had been made with the hon. Member for North Antrim as to the withdrawal of his block. We knew nothing whatever of the fact that part of the understanding upon which the block was to be withdrawn was that the provisions of the Bill were to apply to one borough only. If I had known of that proposal I would have put down a block in my own name, because I strongly pro- 668 test against the Bill being allowed to proceed on the understanding that it is to apply to one borough only. If that understanding was made part of the bargain, the withdrawal of the block on this side of the House was obtained under false pretences. Surely we have as much claim to fair treatment in private matters as we have in our public capacity, and we were entitled to be made acquainted with any private understanding which had been arrived at between the two hon. Baronets—the Member for Mid Armagh and the Member for North Antrim. I now see the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary in his place for the first time this evening, and I hope it has not distressed him to come down at this early hour. I have been pointing out that neither the right hon. Gentleman, nor the Attorney General for Ireland, nor the Under Secretary was in his place when we allowed the Municipal Franchise Bill of the hon. Member for Mid Armagh to go into Committee, on the distinct understanding that it was to apply to the whole of Ireland. That understanding has now been broken. And now let me say a word upon the question of convenience. I know that any argument as to inconvenience and wasting the time of the House has much weight with right hon. Gentlemen opposite. Should the Motion of my hon. Friend for the postponement of this Bill be defeated there must be a long discussion, which will probably occupy the whole of the evening, upon the question of the action of the House of Lords in knocking the Franchise Clause out of the Drainage Bill. A long debate on the merits of the Bill and on the excision of the Franchise Clause will probably waste the entire night. On the other hand, if the Government assent to the Motion for adjourning the debate, and will give us an opportunity of placing the whole of the boroughs of Ireland on the same principle of equality which is extended to the boroughs of England and Scotland, there will be no difficulty in passing the Main Drainage Bill. I am glad to see the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) in his place, and I hope we shall not only have his support, but that of the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington)—the real Govern- 669 ment in Office. Are they going to say that a municipal franchise which has existed in England and Scotland for 25 years is not to be applied to the corporate towns of Ireland? We are told that the Bill will not pass if it is allowed to remain intact. At present it is a Bill which is to be applied to the whole of Ireland; but it is proposed to restrict it to Belfast alone. Let the House of Lords restrict it to Belfast alone if they like to take that responsibility into their hands. I would appeal to the right hon. Member for West Birmingham whether he desires to see the expension of the municipal franchise in Ireland restricted to the town of Belfast? There are wards in Limerick in which the municipal voters are so few that there cannot be a contest. It takes 20 voters to justify a contest, and in one of the wards in Limerick there are only 18. Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to support a restricted franchise of that nature? In Waterford there are no rates levied, because there is plenty of municipal property; but there are not more than 100 voters in the entire municipal borough. Are we, with our eyes open, to allow these restricted franchises to exist? Is it not a duty to our constituents to protest against them, and make the Franchise Bill general, leaving the House of Lords, if they like, to restrict its application to the borough of Belfast? We ought not to allow a Municipal Bill dealing with the whole of Ireland to be shrunk into such miserable dimensions that it will apply to Belfast alone. The hon. Member for East Belfast (Mr. De Cobain) said that there is no demand for it in the rest of Ireland. It may be said that there was no demand for it in Belfast until my hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) came forward to oppose the restriction. The entire credit is due to my hon. Friend for all that has been done since. When the rest of the people of Ireland see that the Bill has passed a second reading and got into Committee, and that they have the haven within sight, will they be content to see the franchise restricted to one borough? I am afraid we are asked to do a thing which will be scouted by our constituents. Seeing that the Government opposite is not a Tory Government, but a Unionist Government, and that the House has assented 670 on half-a-dozen previous occasions to the principle of extending to Ireland the provisions relating to the municipal franchise which now exist in England and Scotland, I ask the Government to see that a way shall be found out of this holdfast, and that the provisions of the Bill shall not be restricted to Belfast alone. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Cork would certainly never have taken off his block if he could have known that such an understanding had been arrived at.
§ SIR JAMES CORRY (Armagh, Mid)
I can afford to pass by the references which have been made to myself by the hon. and learned Member for North Longford (Mr. T. M. Healy). But having the charge of the Municipal Franchise Bill I think it right to say how the matter stands. Immediately after the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means, I endeavoured to put myself in communication with the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton), and I told him that I found it entirely impossible to proceed with the Bill as it stood, but that if it was confined to Belfast I had no doubt that it would pass. He said that it was impossible for him at that time to give me any reply to the question, but that he would consult the hon. Member for Mid Cork (Dr. Tanner), and would let me know later on what course it would be possible to take. A few days afterwards the hon. Member informed me that he had mentioned the matter to some Members of his Party, and that some were in favour of the proposal, while others were not. As far as he was concerned, he was prepared, when the Bill came before the House, to support its restriction to Belfast.
§ MR. SEXTON
Will the hon. Baronet allow me to say a word in explanation? What I said was that, even if the Bill was passed in its restricted form, I should no further oppose the Main Drainage Bill.
§ SIR JAMES CORRY
I understood the hon. Member to say that if the Bill was proceeded with, and restricted to Belfast, he would not oppose it, but would do the best he could to induce other hon. Members of the Party to which he belongs to accept it. To my knowledge, there have been considerable differences of opinion among the Nationalists already in reference to this 671 Bill. When I found that a block had been attached to it by my hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Sir Charles Lewis) I spoke to him upon the matter, and arranged that it should be taken off, on the understanding, however, that the provisions of the Bill should be limited to Belfast. The result was that, on the second reading, I explained to the House my intention to move ultimately that the Bill should be restricted to Belfast. I did that in perfect good faith, because the clause which the hon. Member for West Belfast had introduced into the Drainage Bill in this House, and which was struck out in the House of Lords, only applied to Belfast; and I was very anxious that, as far as I was concerned, I should endeavour to carry out the understanding with the hon. Member for West Belfast, and secure the passing of the Municipal Franchise Bill. The clause which the hon. Member for West Belfast had introduced into the Drainage Bill was entirely contrary to all precedent. There is no precedent whatever, as far as I know, for the introduction of a Franchise Clause into a Bill of that kind. When the Bill had been read a second time I named Monday last for the Committee; but the hon. and learned Member for North Longford (Mr. T. M. Healy) asked me to name Tuesday, which I did. On Tuesday the hon. Member for West Belfast asked me to postpone the Committee stage still further until Thursday, so that he might be able to communicate with his friends. I was, therefore, much astonished this morning, when the Bill came on, to find the hon. and learned Member for North Longford declaring that he was prepared to reject a Bill which restricted the franchise to Belfast, and that he would only support a Bill for the whole of Ireland. I had no opportunity of consulting the members of the Corporation of Belfast on the subject; but I had undoubtedly understood that hon. Members belonging to the Nationalist Party below the Gangway were prepared to accept the restriction of the measure to Belfast. I certainly fell in with that view; but I cannot consent to the further postponement of the present Bill, seeing that the question of the main drainage is one of the most urgent importance. It is an entire mistake to say that the majority of the people of Bel- 672 fast are opposed to this scheme; and I think I ought to know, from my long residence in Belfast, the views of the people of that town quite as well as the hon. Member for East Belfast (Mr. De Cobain). I say, unhesitatingly, that this is a Bill approved of by everybody who knows anything of the requirements of the town, and who have any stake in the prosperity of Belfast, and who are anxious to see that prosperity going on with increased vigour. The hon. Member for East Belfast says that if the Bill were postponed, or even if the Bill were rejected, the corporate funds of the borough are quite sufficient for the purpose of carrying out a scheme of main drainage. I quite understand the suggestion which he makes, and that is that the profits of the Gas Works, which belong to the town, should be applied to this purpose. His suggestion would not only relieve the owners of small property from taxation, but it would simply remove the burden from one class to another. As a matter of fact, I have heard many of the opponents of the Bill state at various deputations that they are not opposed to the main drainage scheme, and that it is only because they have been disappointed in not getting what they want that they now oppose it. The fact is that the main drainage scheme is one which is very much required, and it would be a very great mistake if it were further postponed. I shall certainly oppose the Motion which the hon. Member for Leitrim (Mr. Con-way) has made, unless there is an agreement that the Franchise Bill, which I have had the honour to bring in, shall be restricted to Belfast alone. If such an agreement were arrived at, I should have no objection to postpone this Bill until the 20th of June.
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY (Newcastle-upon-Tyne)
I really should like to hear from the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary what is in the mind of the Government with reference to the Franchise Question. It is scarcely fair to the House to leave it in the dark as to the purpose of the Government in reference to the Franchise Bill, and the Government must be aware that whether they were going to accept the limited proposal of the hon. Baronet or the Bill in its entirety goes to the root of the matter. If the Government will tell us what line they are going to take in re- 673 ference to the Bill, it will probably have the effect of throwing the responsibility on hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway as to the course which may be pursued. I would therefore press on the right hon. Gentleman to tell us, as shortly as he likes, but quite distinctly, what course he and his Colleagues are going to take.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND) (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR) (Manchester, E.)
It appears to me that we are now considering the Main Drainage Bill, and not the merits of the Franchise Bill. It is quite clear that whether it be right or wrong to test the merits of a local scheme of drainage by the question of an extension of the municipal franchise, the connection is an unnatural one which ought no longer to be allowed to exist, and if we cannot come to some agreement to-night, the opinion of the House ought to be taken upon the Drainage Bill by itself. The right hon. Gentleman opposite asks me what course the Government intend to take in regard to the Franchise Bill. I do not think that I am at this moment called upon to express any judgment with regard to the abstract merits or demerits of a scheme for extending the municipal franchise in every borough in Ireland. The present occasion is one on which such a measure could not be carried through, and I should not support but oppose it upon a Bill of this character, without expressing any views on the general question. Everything connected with this Bill has been singular and anomalous, and I hope that the precedent will never be followed again. If we look at the question of the municipal franchise on its merits it does appear to mo that it may be discussed on the Bill, limited in its scope, which has been framed by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Armagh (Sir James Corry). If the Committee, whose duty it is to deal with the Bill, will accept the limited scope of the measure, confining its operation to the City of Belfast, the Government will be happy to give any assistance they can. [Mr. T. M. HEALY: Why?] For reasons which I have laid before the House already. The right hon. Gentleman opposite has asked me what the policy of the Government is? I hope I have explained the position of the Government. If I were to state more fully the motives which influence them, I should probably be ruled out of Order. 674 I have, however, explained the course the Government are prepared to take in the matter, and I would ask the House if an arrangement cannot be come to by which the Franchise Bill may be limited to Belfast, at all events to finally announce whether this Drainage Bill is to be passed or not, and bring to an end this melancholy contest upon which we have already wasted so much time.
MR. JUSTIN M'CARTHY (Londonderry City)
I believe it is an entire mistake on the part of the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant to say that this is the only instance of the tacking on a Franchise Clause to a Private Bill. I believe that it has been done over and over again. To come to the question more immediately before the House, I believe we are reduced to this position—shall we accept or shall we not accept the suggestion made by the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means. Now, as far as I am concerned, I regret, as most of my hon. Friends do, the attempt to strike out of the Municipal Franchise Bill all reference to any place except the borough of Belfast. I will go further, and say that I regret very much that any arrangement has been made which seems to support and sanction a proceeding of that kind on this side of the House. Everyone who will go back into the history of this measure will see perfectly well that it is a measure the principle of which has again and again been affirmed upon this side of the House. The hon. Member for East Belfast (Mr. De Cobain) and some other hon. Members seem to think that Belfast is a city peculiarly wanting this increased and improved franchise, and which has expressed a special desire to obtain it. I assure him that upon that matter he is entirely mistaken. Belfast has, no doubt, had peculiar opportunities for pressing her wishes upon the House in a decisive manner. But I assure him that in the City of Derry, which I represent, there is quite as great a need for an extended franchise. I say with confidence that a great dissatisfaction is ex-pressed there against the present franchise, and that there is as strong and popular a desire for a better state of things as prevails even in Belfast or in any other borough in Ireland. Still we have now brought down the question to a narrow issue—namely, whether we 675 ought to accept the proposal of the Chairman of Ways and Means or not. Speaking now only for myself, I am willing to accept that proposal. I think that, at any rate, we should gain something for Belfast, and that we shall gain nothing, even for Belfast, if we reject it. Therefore, I cannot take on myself the responsibility of rejecting the proposition; and, as far as I am concerned, I shall offer no further opposition to the progress of the Franchise Bill.
§ Question, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put, and negatived.
§ Question, "That the words 'on Monday 20th June,' be there added," put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question, as amended, put.
§ Consideration of Lords Amendments deferred till Monday 20th June.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)
By way of personal explanation, I wish to say that, although I do not oppose the Lords' Amendments, I wish it to be clearly understood that I do not consider myself in the least bound not to oppose the Franchise Bill in its restricted form.