Order for further Proceedings read on Question [9th August],
That, in the case of the Dublin Corporation Bill, returned by the House of Lords with Amendments, the Standing Orders be suspended, and that the Lords Amendments be now considered."—(Mr. Arthur Balfour.)
§ Question again proposed.
§ (3.11.) MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
I wish to raise a point of order in connection with this Bill. It is a Private Bill, and it is proposed to add to it clauses which cover more than three pages of the Order Book, converting it practically into a new Bill, which unsettles the provisions of a Public Act passed in 1849. It has never been under the consideration of the ratepayers of Dublin, and I want to ask you, Sir, if it is in order to proceed with it?
§ (3.12.) MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
Upon the point of order I have to say that the point was raised by the counsel for the opponents of the Bill before a Select Committee of this House, and on that occasion the Speaker's counsel and other authorities were consulted. It was unanimously decided that it was a matter entirely within the discretion of Parliament, whether the question should be dealt with by a public or a private Bill.
§ MR. SPEAKER
If the suspension of the Standing Orders covers anything it will cover everything that is proposed to be taken into consideration to-day, as well as the Amendments which the Lords have made in the Bill.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Lords Amendments considered, and agreed to.
*(3.16.) THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR, Manchester, E.): Moved in page 2, after line 19, insert—
And whereas it is expedient that a separate department should be formed in the office of the Collector General of Rates for the supervision of the applotting and levying all municipal rates, and that the power of collecting such rates should be vested in and exercised by the Corporation.
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ (3.18.) MR. T. W. RUSSELL
I think it would have been more convenient if the right hon. Gentleman, in moving the Amendment, had taken the opportunity of letting the House know 473 what he is doing. What he is virtually proposing to do, is to unsettle the settlement of 1849. That settlement was arrived at after a great deal of difficulty had been experienced in the collection of the rates. Previous to 1849, they had been collected by various bodies at great inconvenience to the citizens, and at considerable cost. The settlement of 1849 was arrived at after public conferences had been held, and a Collector General was appointed to collect the rates. He was authorised by the Act to collect the municipal rates within the City of Dublin, the Metropolitan Police Rate, which is leviable within the city and also in the extra municipal districts, the West Quay Wharf Rates, the Poor Rates within the city, and, lastly, the Bridges Rate. The Collector General is a Government officer; his staff are Government officers; and the citizens of Dublin have had the advantage of having the rates collected by a perfectly independent and non-political authority ever since 1849. That is of great advantage in a city like Dublin, and no complaint has ever been made of the system, or of the Collector General. I have lived in Dublin for the last 25 years, I am a large ratepayer, and I never heard the Collector General charged with partisanship. Yet the Chief Secretary now proposes to unsettle the settlement of 1849, without a word of complaint from the citizens, or a word of evidence having been taken in either House in favour of the present proposal.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
And thrown out, no evidence being given in its favour. The Corporation of Dublin appeared before the Committee, but they were opposed by the Dock Board, the Chamber of Commerce, and various other bodies, all of whom dread the interference of the City of Dublin in this matter. It is entirely in opposition to their wishes that the present proposal is made by the Chief Secretary. Their contention is that the existing system of collecting the rates has worked well and economically, and the Corporation is the sole body opposed to it. The proposal is now made by the Government themselves, but they do not suggest that the Corporation should collect the Police Rate, because they know that at some 474 critical moment the Corporation might not levy it. As I have said, the proposal to allow the Corporation to collect the rates was opposed by a Committee of the citizens, by the Dock Board, by the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, by the townships of Rathmines, Pembroke, and Blackrock, and by all the townships immediately surrounding Dublin. The Select Committee came to the conclusion that the Corporation ought to be allowed to collect their own rate. I gave evidence in favour of that proposal, and after hearing the evidence the Committee cut out the clauses which sought to take over the Collector General's powers bodily. They decided that the Corporation should have power to collect their own rate, but no other, and they framed a clause which was totally unworkable, and which, when it went up to the House of Lords, was rejected on general grounds, and on the ground that it would take away two-thirds of the Collector General's duties. That clause having been struck out, the Government now propose to insert fresh clauses. In the first place, they moved the re-committal of the Bill, and it was sent back to the House of Lords; but the Lords threw out the clauses submitted to them because they held that such action on the part of the Government was totally unprecedented, and that it amounted to an unsettlement by a Private Bill of a settlement arrived at in regard to the rates of Dublin by a Public Act in 1849. You, Sir, have ruled that the Standing Orders may be suspended, and that these clauses can be proposed. I do not dispute your ruling, but if it is in order, all I have to say is that at the close of the Session, when most Members have left London, it is most unfair to adopt so singular a proceeding, having regard to the important interests involved. In the year 1870 a Parliamentary Paper was presented to this House on the Motion of the late Mr. E. D. Gray, who was then Member for the County of Tipperary, which was signed by 37 members of the Corporation of the City of Dublin, protesting against the appointment of Mr. John Bryne as Collector General, and stating that the rate collectors of Dublin had almost everything in their power as regards the franchise. They protested against the rate collectors being appointed 475 by the Collector General, because they thought the rate collectors might use their influence in a manner that might be hostile to the Corporation. These clauses give the Corporation power to appoint two-thirds of the rate collectors who, by leaving the rates of the Unionists uncollected, can deliberately disfranchise that Party.
§ MR. SEXTON
Although two-thirds of the rate collectors may be appointed by the Corporation they may be removed by the Lord Lieutenant.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
No doubt; but experience proves that it is very difficult to remove officers after they have been once appointed. The proposal of the Chief Secretary is simply to give the Dublin Corporation the power of disfranchising every Unionist in the city. They are creating an imperium inimperio, and are setting up a dual control in the Collector General's office. They are creating an impossible and impracticable situation which they know will not work, and the end will be that the whole power of the Collector General's office will be taken over by the Corporation. The hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) asked the other day what steps the Government were going to take in order to keep good faith. Who is the good faith to be kept with?
§ MR. SEXTON
Good faith with the promoters of the Bill—the Dublin Corporation—to whom the Government had bound themselves to propose these clauses.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
The sum and substance of all of this is that the Government, in order to bring the Session to a close, have sold the Unionist Party in Dublin, and, in my opinion, the Unionist Party deserved a better fate at the hands of the Chief Secretary and the Attorney General for Ireland.
§ (3.33.) MR. HASTINGS (Worcester, E.)
I had the honour of serving as Chairman of the Committee of this House to which the Bill was referred, and I wish to explain that the position was somewhat different from that which has been laid down by the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. In the first place, the question was fully considered by us whether the promoters of a private Bill would be justified in proposing to the House, and whether the House would be 476 justified in passing provisions in a private Bill which would do away with the provisions of a public Bill. We came to the conclusion that it all depended upon the circumstances of the case. If the public Bill related to wide matters of public policy, no doubt the Committee would not have entertained the idea of altering them by a private Bill. But in this case that was not so. The provisions of the Act of 1849 were purely local relating to the City of Dublin, and I was supported in the view I took not only by the learned counsel who advises you, Sir, in the discharge of your duties, but also by the highest authorities upon private Bill legislation. The decision arrived at was that there is nothing to prevent a private Bill from doing away with the provisions of a public Bill which are purely private and local in their nature. That was the case in regard to the question affecting the position of the Collector General of Rates. But, further, the Committee did not propose to do away with the office of Collector General. What we did propose was that some of the functions of that official should be handed over to the Corporation, or some one whom the Corporation might nominate, while he should be left undisturbed in the exercise of his other functions. The hon. Member says that the outside townships object to be brought under the Corporation, but I can assure the House that we did nothing that could affect the interests of the out districts. It was originally proposed by the Corporation to do so, but the Committee threw out those provisions, and said at once that they did not intend to allow the Dublin Corporation to collect rates or exercise any jurisdiction outside their own area. Within their own area we thought they ought to occupy the same position as other Municipal Authorities in the United Kingdom, and be able to collect their own rates. The hon. Gentleman says that these clauses will enable the Corporation to disfranchise certain voters.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
What I said was that the clause creates an impracticable position which might lead to the Corporation having the ultimate control of the franchise, by having the control of all the functions of the Collector General in their hands.
§ MR. HASTINGS
Upon that point what I have to say is that whether in England or in Ireland, it is on the poor rate that the qualification for voting depends, and the Committee particularly excluded from the Bill all provisions which would enable the Corporation to collect the poor rates. That duty was retained in the hands of the Collector General, while the collection of the municipal rates was relegated to the Corporation. I am quite aware that there are many Corporations in England who do not collect all their rates, as, for instance, the Police and Sanitary Committee have been in the habit of passing local Acts to enable municipal Corporations to collect all the rates within their own jurisdiction. We did not go as far as that, but we simply gave the Corporation of Dublin the municipal rates. Forty years ago, whatever the reason for it might be, an Act was passed which took away from Dublin the power which other Corporations possess, and we failed to see why we should continue that injustice. The Committee sat for about a week on this clause. We examined a number of witnesses, and we endeavoured, in the most painstaking way, to arrive at what we believed to be a correct conclusion. We believe that we did arrive at a correct conclusion, and that the best way of settling the question would have been for the Lords to accept our clause. They threw it out, and I have no doubt they were actuated by the highest motives in what they did. But I think that a more full and impartial consideration of the facts of the case would lead them to the conclusion that the Corporation of Dublin ought to have the power of collecting their own municipal rates. On behalf of the Committee I may add that we accept the clauses now proposed by the Chief Secretary as a fair compromise. The House has always been rightly jealous as to the taxing of the people in any way other than the House approves; and if, consequently, there is a division of opinion—as I fear there is—between the two Houses on this matter, surely it is not for the Commons to give way.
§ (3.41.) MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
May I ask the hon. Member for Worcestershire (Mr. Hastings) to supplement what he has stated, by pointing out in what way the proposals 478 of the Chief Secretary differ in form or substance from those approved by the Committee?
§ (3.42.) MR. HASTINGS
Both of them propose to give the Corporation of Dublin the power of collecting the municipal rates. That is the principle upon which the Committee passed their clauses, and it is the principle of the clauses now submitted. I look upon all the rest as nothing more nor less than the machinery of the Bill, and I am willing to take any machinery that may be devised by the Government, rather than let the principle go. We propose to give to the Corporation the power of appointing an independent officer to collect the municipal rates. I threw out the suggestion that they should appoint the Collector General, if possible, and I believe that would be the best arrangement that could be come to. Under the clauses now proposed I understand that the Corporation would have the power of appointing an officer subordinate to the Collector General, and acting under him, in a sort of sub-office. The two things do not differ in principle, although they may in mechanism. Both aim at the same object, namely, to relieve the Corporation of Dublin from the stigma that they are not fit to collect their own rates. The right hon. Gentleman proposes also, as we proposed, that there shall be power on either side to give notice of the termination of the arrangement.
§ (3.45.) MR. MACARTNEY (Antrim, S.)
It will not be necessary for me to detain the House at any length in replying to the observations of the hon. Gentleman opposite, who acted as Chairman of the Select Committee. I would point out that we are not discussing the settlement of that Committee, a settlement in favour of which a good deal might be said, but a proposal which takes away all force from the petition of the Corporation of Dublin, and it would tend to secure economy and convenience to have a consolidated rate. Passing from that point, I wish to recall the attention of the House and of the Chief Secretary to the position of affairs as far as this House is concerned. The hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell) has pointed out that the present settlement was arrived at in 1849. But I want to remind the House how the settlement 479 was arrived at. In that year there were three Bills before the House relating to the Corporation of Dublin, one by the Chamber of Commerce, one by the Corporation, and one by a Solicitor, who was supposed to be animated by a considerable amount of hostility to the Corporation. The result of the discussion which took place upon the Bills was a compromise which was agreed to by the then Chief Secretary. The three Bills were all withdrawn, but the Chief Secretary introduced as a Government measure the present Act, along with two other Acts, which were passed without opposition in the two Houses. It was admitted at the time that the question of the power of collecting the rates by the Corporation was the one that aroused party passions, and it was considered advisable to settle the question by appointing as collector some one who would be free from party influence, and who should be positively precluded from taking any part in party politics whatever. The question of the collection of the rates in Dublin has since 1849 been before the House from time to time, and in 1885 the Chief Secretary promised Mr. Gray to bring in a Bill to deal with the subject. In the meantime the appointment of Collector General was to be provisional. The Corporation of Dublin have now introduced a Bill privately. Its early initiation in the City of Dublin was somewhat peculiar. The Corporation appear to have accepted the Report of their Committee without discussion.
§ MR. SEXTON
Not at all. The Corporation were bound by statute to hold two meetings, between which a meeting of the burgesses was to be held. It was therefore considered inexpedient to enter into a full description at the first meeting, but to reserve it until after the burgesses had had an opportunity of expressing their views.
§ MR. MACARTNEY
The Bill was not adopted by the Corporation until after the meeting of the burgesses had been held.
§ MR. MACARTNEY
I am afraid that I cannot accept that statement, because I believe it to be at variance with the proceedings of public bodies generally. The clauses the House is now asked to agree to practically give all that the 480 Corporation of Dublin demanded in their original Bill, and I would prefer that the Government should restore the original clauses, because they, at all events, are perfectly clear and distinct instead of giving what is asked for in confused language, and by cumbrous machinery. The course taken by the Government has been somewhat extraordinary. They had the opportunity of proposing these clauses in the House of Lords, but they refrained from doing so. On the contrary, they allowed the Bill to pass the House of Lords without a murmur. There were only two witnesses called before the Committee of the House of Lords—one of them, an Alderman of the City of Dublin, who confessed that he knew very little of the matter, and the other, the Collector General, who said that the plan proposed would be extravagant and unworkable, and would lead to unnecessary expenditure. I do not believe that the safeguard of the Lord Lieutenant will protect the interests that he is anxious to protect, and I am of opinion that nothing would create more disagreement than the clauses as now drafted. I hope the House will not consent to the clauses, because they would be countenancing an almost unprecedented procedure with regard to Private Bill legislation, and would not be promoting the interests concerned.
§ (3.55.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
It would be idle to deny that the controversy in which we are now engaged has created in Dublin an amount of interest and almost of excitement which, though I accept the fact of its existence, I find it very difficult to understand. My hon. Friend the Member for South Tyrone, who spoke first, used language which can only be interpreted as expressing the conviction that in bringing forward these Amendments I am betraying the Union. I was gratified when the hon. Member who sits next to him came to the rescue, because, if my opinions with regard to the Union are open to doubt, those of the hon. Member for Worcestershire have fallen under no such dark suspicion. Now, Sir, I hope to be able to convince the House that there is no justification whatever for the feeling of hostility which our proposals have excited. The clauses may be workable or unworkable, wise or unwise, but, at all events, they have been conceived in the interests of the 481 Dublin ratepayers, and there is nothing in them to arouse the suspicion of even the most suspicious Unionist in the City. The existing arrangement was made in 1849, when a consolidated rate was established, and the collection of it confided to a Collector General. I believe that system has worked fairly and economically, and that no system which could be substituted for it would be likely to work more fairly or more economically. So far, I am in entire agreement with my hon. Friends the Members for South Tyrone and South Antrim, and I should have been glad to see the existing system go on without alteration. But I think the House will agree with me that when a great Municipal Authority like the Dublin Corporation make a demand to be allowed to collect its own rates, this House, in the year 1890, cannot refuse to accede to the demand.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
They asked to collect the whole rate; but that, as far as I am concerned, I have never been prepared to give them. My argument, as the House will see, has brought us to this position, that the system of a consolidated rate collected by the Collector General is the most economical; and that if the Dublin Corporation desire to have the responsibility of collecting their own rates, their request ought to be granted. As a corollary from these two apparently irreconcileable propositions, I claim that the House should assent to these clauses. Our compromise, and our compromise, perhaps, alone, reconciles the two conflicting claims of municipal economy and municipal autonomy? It has, however, been violently objected to; and what is the character of the objection? The objection raised is this: that by the power given to the Corporation under these clauses, they would obtain such a control over the collection of that part of the consolidated rate, the payment of which confers the right to vote, that they would be able to use their power, if they wished, to manipulate the register in the interests of the Political Party to which the majority of the Corporation might happen to belong. I traverse that contention absolutely. No such power is conferred by the clauses on the Paper. What do we do by 482 these clauses? The Government introduce into the Collector General's Department what I may describe as a Sub-Department, consisting of one or two, or perhaps three gentlemen. What are the powers of this Sub-Department? It will have no right to collect the rates, or to manipulate the register, or to control the Collector General.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I am dealing now not with the collectors, but with the Sub-Department of the Collector's Office, and I ask what are the powers given to this Sub-Department? Will it have the right to control the Collector General to collect the rates or to manipulate the register? It will have none of those things. It will simply have the right to supervise the levying of the rate. The Dublin Corporation at present have no means of inspecting the books or of knowing how efficiently that part of the functions of the Collector General in which they are interested is carried out. They ask, therefore, for some power of supervision, and, so far as the Sub-Department is concerned, what is given by the clause could not be described as conferring any power which could be misused by the Corporation in the direction suspected by the hon. Members for South Tyrone and South Antrim. Let me come now to the collectors. According to these clauses, two-thirds of the collectors are, as vacancies occur, to be appointed by the Corporation, but these, together with the remaining third, will remain what they are now, servants of the Collector General and the Lord Lieutenant. The Corporation of Dublin, in short, will obtain certain rights of patronage, but of nothing more than patronage. This, my hon. Friend opposite says, will give them absolute control over the rates and the franchise. I say that it will do nothing of the kind. The speeches of the two hon. Gentlemen against those clauses have not contained any argument to show that the arrangement hands over a substantial power to the Corporation of manipulating the rate in any way whatever. All the collectors, whether appointed by the Corporation or not, will be the servants of the Collector General and, through the Collector General, of the Lord Lieutenant, and of nobody else.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Is there any case in Ireland in which the collectors of the consolidated rate have been the servants of any officers at all like the Collector General? My hon. Friend is speaking of a case in which the collectors of the poor rates are the servants of the Union; and possibly it may happen that where the Guardians have a strong political bias their servants may violate their duty to the public by manipulating the register in the interests of a preponderating Political Party. That may possibly occur; but if it does, I maintain that no argument can possibly be drawn from it affecting this case, because here the master of the collector is not a political body at all; he is a permanent official who, it is admitted, has been in the past and may be in the future kept entirely apart from any Party influences whatever.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
No doubt; but the theory of the objectors is that unless a man pays his poor rate before a certain date—the 1st of July, I believe—he is not qualified to vote during that year, and it is supposed that the collectors would deliberately decline to collect the poor rate of the Unionist voters, so as to prevent their being placed on the register.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I contend that the chief sufferers in this case would be the Corporation themselves, because they could not decline to collect the small fraction of the consolidated rate which is payable in respect of the poor without at the same time declining to collect the consolidated rate, of which two-thirds at least goes to the Corporation. The Corporation, therefore, would neither have the power nor the desire to carry out this manipulating of the register which is feared. Not the power, because the collectors would not be under their control. Not the desire, because they would be the chief losers by any default on the part of the ratepayers. But let me suppose the worst. Let me suppose that this economical arrangement will be impracticable; that the compromise will be 484 a worthless compromise, and that all the favourable anticipations I entertain are not fulfilled. The result will simply be that the arrangement will be brought to an end. My own conviction is that the Party most likely to bring them to an end would be the Corporation themselves. I do not believe that they cherish the dark designs attributed to them by my hon. Friend. If these collectors understand their own interests so little as to run the risk of dismissal at the hands of the Collector General by manipulating the register, of course the first thing would be to dismiss the offenders. The next thing to be done, if this proved insufficient, would be for the Government to step forward and say that the compromise suggested in the interests of the Dublin ratepayer was (contrary to their expectations) found to be unworkable; and, therefore, they would give the notice necessary to bring the arrangement to an end. When this was done, the mode of collecting rates in Dublin would be exactly that which my hon. Friend desires to have at present—
§ MR A. J. BALFOUR
By financial arrangements I presume my hon. Friend refers to superannuation, pensions, and matters of that kind. They were not provided for by the clauses agreed to by the House of Commons, but they are provided for in the clause now submitted, and this is another superiority which I think the plan of the Government has over the plan proposed by the Committee of the House of Commons. It possesses, indeed, two advantages over that plan. It gives a chance to the ratepayers of Dublin of being able to continue a system which makes the cost of collection exactly half what it would otherwise be; and, secondly, it secures to all the officials concerned the superannuation and pension which they have justly earned. Under these circumstances, I think it would be a great misfortune if this workable compromise were not carried out, and I should profoundly regret if either the House of Commons or the House of Lords were to decline to accept this settlement of a burning and most difficult controversy. A settlement which is favourable, as I believe, to the ratepayers of Dublin, and is certainly not 485 antagonistic to the interests of that Party, of which, in spite of the observations of my hon. Friend opposite, I still claim to be a Member.
§ (4.15.) MR. SEXTON
I think the Chief Secretary for Ireland has made it perfectly clear that neither the hon. Member for South Tyrone nor the hon. Member for South Antrim can have read the clauses which they are opposing to-day. If they have read them they have been unable to appreciate them. I am not surprised at the observations which have been directed by the hon. Member for South Tyrone against the Chief Secretary, although I do not think the public in general will believe in a conflict in which the hon. Member for South Tyrone appears as the defender of the Legislative Union against the Chief Secretary. Every Grand Jury in Ireland, every Board of Guardians, and the most insignificant village authority already possesses greater powers than are asked for by the Corporation of Dublin. The hon. Member for South Antrim told us that he is willing to accept the original clauses of the Bill.
§ MR. SEXTON
The original clauses made the Corporation the sole collectors of poor rates in the City of Dublin, and gave the Corporation the sole power of appointing and removing the rate collectors, so that they would have possessed the power of manipulating the rates without the Lord Lieutenant having any right to remove them. We are told that human nature in Dublin is the same as human nature anywhere else; but I would suggest that temptation is usually the prelude to offence, and I must scout the idea that the Bill would offer temptations to the Corporation of Dublin to manipulate the register of votes, seeing that at present three of the Dublin seats are never contested at all, while, with regard to the fourth, Mr. Robert Sexton, the Unionist candidate, is one of the members of the Corporation promoting the Bill. With reference to the main point in the argument of the hon. Member, that the Bill undoes the settlement of 1849, my reply is that the ideas of Local Government have considerably altered since that time. Under the settlement of 1849, 486 moreover, the Corporation of Dublin were in the position of serfs, being subjected to such indignity and loss as the Government have never dared attempt to apply to any other Corporation in the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for South Tyrone says that there has been no complaint. What would have been the use of a complaint? We are next told that we ought to proceed by Public Bill. We have introduced Public Bill after public Bill, and to tell us now that we ought to proceed by Public Bill is a mockery amounting to a denial of justice. I deny that the present system has worked well and economically. The Corporation of Dublin have no control over the collection of the rates. They can make no audit. The audit made takes no account of most important matters. Every year there is a great and growing sum—at present it is about £15,000—returned by the Collector General as an uncollectable arrear, and the Corporation have no means of ascertaining whether that arrear is collectable or not. There are altogether from £50,000 to £60,000 of outstanding arrears, but they have to take the word of the Collector General for it. He is under no obligation to render accounts. The Corporation cannot procure any account from the Collector General, and such account as he is willing to give they have to take whenever he likes to give it them. Three months ago the City Accountant, on asking for the annual account to enable the Corporation to complete their accounts for the year, was told that the chief clerk in the Collector General's office was away, and had left word that the account was not to be given till he returned. I cannot say whether he has returned yet; but the demand was made three months ago, and the account is not furnished yet. The hon. Member for South Tyrone says that the present system is economical. Let me appeal from his word to his oath. In giving evidence before the Committee in May last, the hon. Member was asked whether he looked upon the system as economical, and he declined to give any decided opinion. That was his oath in May. We have now heard his word to-day, that it is a plan that works well and economically. Elsewhere than in Dublin the average cost of collecting the municipal rates is from 1 to 2 per cent., but the cost in Dublin is nearly 3½ percent 487 The Department besides has been a perfect nest of jobbery. It costs the city £10,000 a year, although, economically managed, it ought not to cost more than £5,000. Not long ago an officer was pensioned at £300 a year, and his son was immediately taken into the office at £190 a year, showing how well and economically managed the Department is. We are told that the Corporation are the only persons who support the Bill; but at the first meeting of the Corporation three gentlemen who were knighted by a Conservative Government supported it. There was subsequently a meeting of the burgesses, and after that a poll, in which the citizens, by a majority of 4,000 to 1,300, approved the Bill. What, then, was the need of producing special evidence before the Committee as to the views of the ratepayers? The Corporation all through have been willing to accept any reasonable proposal. The first proposition was to make the Corporation the sole collectors of all the rates. That was objected to. The second proposal was made by the Commons Committee, namely, that there should be two separate collections—the Corporation collecting the municipal rates and the Collector General the rest. The Lords Committee objected to that proposition, and we have now before us the proposal of the Chief Secretary, which, if adopted, will undoubtedly save the money of the ratepayers by providing for only one collection. It is proposed to introduce a compound collection, and if it should fail, either the Corporation or the Lord Lieutenant can institute a separate collection. Why should we be denied the opportunity of endeavouring to ascertain whether the expense of a double collection cannot be saved?
§ MR. SEXTON
The sweetness and the lightness of that observation must, I am sure, strike the sense of the House. At present the Collector General of Dublin collects the municipal rates, and the hon. Member objects to the proposal of the Government, because he does not wish the Corporation of Dublin, who are the representatives of the ratepayers, to be independent of the Collector General's Office. I can tell the hon. Member that the question about which he has grown 488 so excited to-day will never become a practical question. When vacancies occur, two-thirds are to be filled by the Corporation and one-third by the Lord Lieutenant; but if the collector of rates is guilty of any act of misconduct, it will be in the power of the Lord Lieutenant to remove him; and, although a sentiment of gratitude may remain towards those by whom the appointment was made, the rate collector will naturally look not to the person who appointed him, but to the person who can remove him. The reason which was alleged by the Committee of the Lords, in the first instance, for rejecting the Commons clauses has now disappeared. Ample provision is made for the Staff. It is said that the proposal is unprecedented, but it should be remembered that the grievance is unprecedented also. When a Committee of this House have unanimously determined, and the House itself has unanimously ratified the decision, that a reform shall be made in a matter affecting the taxation of the people, it is unprecedented to reject the decision in another place. The Bill has cost the Corporation of Dublin 20 months' hard labour and a good many thousands of pounds; and if, by a prolonged conflict on its main provision, the Bill is lost, something may happen more significant than any argument in this House, for it will be regarded as significant of the reception which is likely to be given in the House of Lords to the remedial policy of the Tory Party for Ireland—a policy which for the last four years they have declared to consist in the giving of the powers and functions of Local Government, as they are understood in this country, to the elected bodies of Ireland.
§ (4.33.) MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)
I wish to point out that the powers so much deprecated by the hon. Member for South Tyrone have already been conferred on the town clerk of Dublin, Mr. Beveridge, against whom not one suggestion of a breach of duty has been made by the Dublin Unionist Party. The Collector General has no more to say to the franchise in Dublin than I have. [Mr. T. W. RUSSELL laughed.] The hon. Member laughs; but if he will not accept my authority, I hope he will accept that of Rogers on "Registration," and the Act of Parliament. 489 The provisions of the Representation of the People Act of 1867 were applied to Ireland for the first time in 1884, and they require that a demand note for the rates due must be served on every individual ratepayer; and if any officer wilfully withholds the presentation of the demand note, he is held to be guilty of a breach of duty rendering him liable to prosecution. He is further liable, under the same Act, to dismissal without notice. The official upon whom these duties are now imposed is the Parnellite town clerk of Dublin, and they were imposed upon him by this House when it contained not 16, but 40 Tory Members. In addition, it is the duty of the town clerk on or before the 15th of June to present a list of all persons whose rates are in arrear, so that they may not be unfairly disfranchised. No Unionist has ever complained of Mr. Beveridge. In fact, he served so many notices upon Nationalists last year that the four Revising Barrister's Courts were blocked for three weeks. Can it be suggested that Dublin alone, of all the constituencies, with its powerful majority, is going to perpetrate acts of corruption in order to retain a seat of which it is absolutely certain at the present moment? The law is entirely technical, and I assert without fear of contradiction that similar duties to those now proposed to be conferred are already exercised by the salaried officers of the Corporation, and that those duties have been fairly exercised and discharged.
§ (4.42.) MR. COURTNEY
I am afraid that at the present moment we are in a position of some embarrassment partly on account of the heated atmosphere in which we have been living during the last half-hour, and partly because there has been thrown before us a number of clauses which we are asked to adopt without the possibility of giving them the examination which is usually given to the clauses submitted to a Committee on a private Bill. In this case all the questions of principle were submitted to a Committee of this House, which came to certain conclusions and passed the Bill. It then went to the House of Lords, where it was also considered. Therefore, it is far too late now to raise the objection that matters contained in a public Bill ought not to be dealt with by a private measure, even if that 490 objection ever had any real significance. I asked my right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Police and Sanitary Committee to say exactly what the difference is between the new clauses proposed by the Chief Secretary and the scheme of the Bill, with reference to the collection of the rates, as agreed upon by the Committee; and he answered that the principle was precisely the same, only there was a difference in the machinery. Then there come the compensation clauses, to which my hon. Friend the Member for South Tyrone raises no objection; so that the whole difficulty, as I understand my hon. Friend the Member for South Tyrone, is this new clause, which deals with the appointment of collectors and gives the appointment to the Corporation of Dublin as well as to the Lord Lieutenant. That is the whole scope of the Bill. I find some difficulty in understanding how the proposal will work. I doubt whether it will achieve what I understand is the intention of the Chief Secretary. One collector will be appointed by the Lord Lieutenant and two by the Corporation. The Chief Secretary justifies it on the ground that it is desirable to retain one-third of the control in the hands of the Lord Lieutenant. Will that always be realised? Let there be three collectors—A, B, and C, appointed in that chronological order. A is appointed by the Corporation, B by the Lord Lieutenant, and C by the Corporation. Suppose B dies first—out of his turn so to speak. The appointment of his successor will fall in due rotation to the Corporation, who will so nominate all three. Under other circumstances, the Lord Lieutenant would have two nominees out of the three. These results are not intended, and I was led to consider them by asking myself what would happen. Supposing one of the collectors negligently left the rate uncollected, and the Lord Lieutenant dismissed him. It occurs to me that the Corporation of Dublin might re-appoint him. What becomes of your controlling power if the Corporation re-appoints the man?
§ MR. COURTNEY
Then if the Lord Lieutenant dismisses him it will be the Lord Lieutenant's turn to appoint. These 491 are some of the conundrums that might have been worked out before a Committee, and it is hardly possible that they can be worked out by the whole House.
§ MR. SEXTON
; I think the right hon. Gentleman will see that if anything like that state of affairs occurred, the Corporation would seek for an entirely separate collection.
§ MR. COURTNEY
You need not break up the whole machinery because of a difficulty over one man. To sum up:—Although it is extremely inconvenient that a number of clauses should be considered in this way, I do not think, considering the whole circumstances of the case, that the House will be justified in objecting, as there is no real danger to be apprehended from their operation.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
I can only speak with the indulgence of the House. I just wish to say to the Chief Secretary that, having brought in these clauses in the absence of most of the Unionist Members, the Government must take the responsibility of them.
§ MR. MACARTNEY
I have also to state that I would have preferred the clauses in the original Bill to the clauses presented by the Government.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Consequential Amendments made.