§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.) rose to move that this Bill be read a third time. He said he did not think he need use many words in commending the Motion, because, as had been stated in another place, there was not a clause, not a line of this Bill that was not already in operation in England. The Bill created no new Franchise; it simply improved the existing Irish Franchise; and every word in it was taken either from the existing Irish Act of 1840 or from existing English Acts. He observed that notices had been given by the hon. Member for South Antrim (Mr. Macartney), and the hon. Member for Derry (Mr. Ross), to re-commit the Bill; and, therefore, he should like to say a few words with regard to the alleged reasons for that Amendment. The object of the Bill was to extend, and 967 not to restrict the Irish Municipal Franchise, and complaint had been made that in Grand Committee the promoters of the Bill would not accept Amendments which would have had the effect of restricting the Franchise, and this was made the ground for asking the House to re-commit the Bill generally. But the object of the Bill being the extension of the Franchise, surely it was no good ground of complaint that the Grand Committee did not by Amendments give the Bill a restrictive character? It was wholly unusual, if it was not unprecedented, to make a Motion for the re-committal of the Bill without a word indicating the clause or Amendment in respect to which this course was proposed. The House was to be asked to send the Bill to Committee of the Whole House without the smallest inkling of the purpose in view. Ample time had been afforded for the consideration of the Bill by constituencies in Ireland, and during the three days it was before the Grand Committee every Amendment proposed by hon. and learned Gentlemen who represented the Conservative Party in the direction of restricting the Franchise were rejected, and he took the full responsibility for these rejections. Any Amendment going with the object of the Bill—the extension of the Franchise—he would have been happy to accept; and he pointed out that the Bill still left in operation in 106 towns in Ireland a most undemocratic Franchise for the protection of the propertied classes, such as had no existence in England and Scotland. In these towns there was a £50 immediate lessor Franchise which the landlords enjoyed, and a £4 and under Franchise which landlords enjoyed and tenants did not. The Bill did not propose to abolish this old Franchise, although it had no parallel in England or Scotland, and never existed in the eleven municipal boroughs, but if there had been any Amendment to assimilate the Franchise to that in England in this respect, of course he could not have resisted it. No such proposal was made in the Grand Committee, and he could find no justification in good sense or good judgment for the Motion. If it were carried, private Members might bid adieu to any prospect of carrying the Bill through its 968 various stages. The object of the Motion was simply to kill the Bill. It looked as if the opponents of the Bill had no hope from the House of Lords, no confidence in that institution, because what graver slur could there be on that institution, where the Tory Party had 500 friends, than to mistrust their learning and acuteness for remedying the errors in drafting in a Bill sent up from the Commons. Never could the functions of a Second Chamber be more fairly exercised than in the correction of drafting errors. But no such errors had been alleged in the Grand Committee. The chief opponents of the Bill there were the hon. Member for Derby and the hon. and learned Member for Mid Armagh, and he would give the House a hint of the state of things in the towns those gentlemen represented. The Corporation of the city of Derry consisted of 24 members, and not a single man among them was a Catholic. Though in the city of Derry the Catholic inhabitants were in a majority by some 3,000, they had no representative on the Corporation. And what was the case with the Corporation employés? The list had been before the country for two months, and no attempt had been made by the Corporation to dispute its accuracy. There were 30 employes of the Corporation, and though the majority of the inhabitants were Catholics, the following officials were all Protestants:—Town clerk, city solicitor, assistant town clerk, assistant clerk, treasurer, city surveyor, city analyst, superintendent of markets, superintendent of cemetery, sword bearer, four sanitary officers, executive sanitary officer, mace bearer, four assistant sanitary officers, four Serjeants of the mace—the importance of Protestantism to this office he was at a loss to understand—superintendent of the fire brigade, three watermen, caretaker of the reservoir, and electrical superintendent. He could understand that these gentlemen would be anxious that their Tory representative should distinguish himself in opposition to this Bill. Then, again, the hon. and learned Member for Mid Armagh included in his constituency the ancient city of Armagh, where the majority of inhabitants were Catholic, and where every man of the 24 on the Town Council was a Protestant, and all the employés were Protestant. In the 969 last 30 years in that city, where the majority of inhabitants were Catholics, not a single Catholic had ever been returned to the Town Council, except upon one notable occasion, when they wanted to pass a somewhat decrepit water scheme and put £10,000 on the rates, and then they, to confer a share of the unpopularity on the Catholics, co-opted a Catholic member. He would not refer to the notorious case of Belfast where not a single Catholic was returned to the Town Council. But it had been said on behalf of Belfast that if the higher corporation officials in Belfast were Protestants the scavengers were Catholics, and that whereas Londonderry would not employ Papal scavengers, Belfast would. But it was a considerable concession that they had ever reached that point. Who knew but that, even if the Bill did not pass the House of Lords, by the influence of this Debate they might not yet live to see in the next century a Catholic scavenger employed in Derry. A Bill of far greater importance—the Bill of the Member for Leeds—passed through the Grand Committee without amendment. The Bill as to the Rating of Machinery was down for next Wednesday, and, like the Bill under discussion, it passed without amendment through the Grand Committee. There was another important measure coming on, and he would not take up further time by discussing this Bill, because he had no doubt that, as the learned lawyers in opposition to the Bill spent three days in the Grand Committee they were quite capable of consuming another day with their objections to it. Accordingly, reserving further observations respecting the Grand Committee to a later stage, he would confine himself to moving the Third Reading of this Bill.
§ *MR. W. E. MACARTNEY (Antrim, S.) moved, as an Amendment "That the Bill be re-committed to a Committee of the Whole House." He remarked that the Amendment was not directed against the principle of the Bill. It was far from his wish to prevent that principle from coming into operation in Ireland as early as possible. The hon. and learned Member for Louth objected to the form of his Amendment. But, by reference to the records of the House the hon. Member would have found that, though the Amendment was in a form not often 970 availed of, it was quite usual under the circumstances. The hon. Member said the object of the Bill was to enlarge the Franchise in Ireland. If that meant that its object was to assimilate the Franchise in Ireland to that of England, he agreed in the definition, but when the House passed the Second Reading it was never understood that the law in Ireland should be so altered that it would go farther in Ireland than it did in England. If so the House would not have permitted discrimination to be made in Ireland which was not sanctioned in England in regard to local government elections. His second reason for placing the Amendment on the Paper was that he asserted that the Standing Committee on Law had failed in its duty to the House, and did not, during the discussion of the Bill, perform any of those duties which he believed the House intended to confer on Standing Committees. Standing Committees of which he had been a member always came to the consideration of Bills of this description with a desire, where defects were pointed out to them, not to treat them in a partisan spirit, but to make the legislation as effective as possible. The defence of the Bill in the Standing Committee was left entirely to the hon. and learned Member for Louth and some of his friends, which was absolutely unprecedented in the history of Standing Committees. The Chief Secretary for Ireland was absolutely silent, gave no opinion whether the Bill was adequate to make perfect the machinery it proposed to set up, and did not assist the Committee in any way. If those interested in seeing the machinery under the Bill made effective had been forced to place this Amendment on the Paper, it was largely due to the neglect of the Irish Office. For those who assented to the principles of the Bill but dissented from some of its provisions, to have examined on the Second Reading all the details would have been highly in convenient. He frankly accepted the principle of the Bill and he believed it received the assent of all the Unionist Members from Ireland. But he did not criticise its details on the Second Reading because it was understood that, if referred to the Grand Committee, the Bill, like other Bills, would receive considerate attention, and the objections raised by Unionist Members 971 from Ireland to some of its provisions would, at all events, have been treated with the courtesy they had a right to demand from the Chief Secretary. That had not been the case, and this Bill, which affected his constituency, and the constituencies of his Unionist colleagues in Ireland, had been "run through" the Standing Committee without any protest from the Chief Secretary, and with the evident intention—according to statements in the Nationalist newspapers in Ireland—that the House should be deprived of any opportunity of discussing the provisions of the Bill on the Report stage. Grave responsibility would rest on the House if it sanctioned proceedings of that character. The Bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Law as a Bill that proposed to assimilate the Franchise in Ireland to that which existed in England. But the result of the discussion of the Bill in the Grand Committee had not been to carry out the pretensions urged in favour of the Bill on the Second Reading. The qualifying period in England for the exercise of the franchise in all municipal and parochial elections was 12 months, whether as regarded occupation or residence. By this Bill, that qualifying period in respect of residence was reduced to six months. This was defended on the ground that it existed under the Act of 1840. He was surprised at this, because, in the discussion on the Second Reading, the Act of 1840 and all its provisions were covered with ridicule and contempt, not only by the Nationalist Members, but by the Chief Secretary. In this Bill, instead of there being one qualifying period as in England, affecting occupation and residence, they had, first, a qualifying period of twelve months, and a residential qualification of six months, and, in relation to upwards of 100 towns which would come under the operation of the Bill, the qualifying period was reduced to three months. These were points which should have received the attention of the Irish Government, and they ought to have intervened to prevent the Standing Committee on Law doing that to which the House had not given its sanction, On another Standing Committee this Session in which the Government was represented, on a private Bill introduced by a Member of the House, the representative 972 of the Government intervened to prevent the insertion in that Bill of a principle with which he said he and the Government agreed, but to which this House had not assented. He believed it to be a true constitutional principle that the Standing Committees ought not to be permitted to apply in certain localities any principle to which that House had not first given its assent. The Standing Committee in the present case had failed its in duty to the House; they had sent back the Bill containing a principle to which that House had not given its assent, and which it ought to have an opportunity of reconsidering in the Grand Committee of the Whole House. The second objection he had was, that the machinery of the Bill as it now stood was defective, and that it was absolutely impossible to provide for the necessary revision of the new electorate. The Bill divided boroughs and towns into three classes in Ireland,—(1) boroughs which were Parliamentary as well as Municipal; (2) boroughs Municipal and not Parliamentary; and (3) upwards of 100 towns and townships which were for the first time to be brought under an Act. As an example of the defective machinery, he instanced the city of Belfast. Under this Bill, the Parliamentary and the municipal lists were to be made out together, but Belfast was divided into five wards and four Parliamentary Divisions, and it would be absolutely impossible to have the revision of both lists simultaneously. [Mr. T. M. HEALY: "Why?"] That was the opinion of the officials connected with the revision. This Bill omitted to provide a large class of machinery for which the Act of 1882 in England made ample provision. That Act went into the greatest detail, and repealed a large number of preceding Statutes; and it set out the provisions which were to govern the election of aldermen and councillors. The Municipal Corporations Act of 1882 also set out in minute detail the machinery by which the municipal lists were to be revised, but this Bill failed altogether to provide proper machinery for giving the Franchise proposed to be conferred on the electors.973
§ *MR. MACARTNEY
said, he was really surprised that the Chief Secretary for Ireland should cheer that utterance. It was the duty of the framers of this Bill to see that the machinery was appropriate. It did not lie with the opponents of a Bill to rectify every error which existed in it; as great a responsibility lay with the Chief Secretary and the Irish Office to see that a Bill absolutely defective in machinery did not pass through a Committee without Amendments. This was the second occasion on which the officials of the Irish Office had altogether failed in the proper exercise of their discretion, for in the case of a Public Libraries Bill two or three years ago it was left to the House of Lords to discover that the Bill was absolutely inapplicable to Ireland, and the following year a Select Committee had to be appointed to sit upon another Bill to bring the matter into some sort of consonance with the local situation in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman, he had no doubt, had no very intimate acquaintance with the position in Ireland, but the Law Officers, and those who were responsible in the Irish Office, should have informed him of the deficiences in the Bill.
§ *MR. MACARTNEY
said, he understood that the view of the hon. Member was that the House of Lords ought to be abolished and that it had been a curse to every bit of Irish legislation. The Bill was an example of the evils of legislation by reference, and he could only apply to it the well-known phrase that it seemed to be "a luxuriant jungle through which legislation by reference stalked like a grizzly reality." The Bill was a direct contrast to those of 1878 and 1882, the framers and drafters of which had laid down, in clause after clause, the specific machinery necessary to carry out their intentions. Another objection to the Bill which applied to the City of Belfast and most of the municipal corporations in Ireland, was that the Burgess Roll was to come into operation on the 25th day of November, which was the day fixed for the election of aldermen and town councillors. [Mr. T. M. HEALY: "That is the existing law."] But the burgess roll did not come into operation 974 until the day of the election, although seven days beforehand the nominators, with their seconders and assenters, had to describe themselves on the nomination paper according to the description which stood on the burgess roll. And yet the burgess roll did not come into operation until the day of the election, so that it would be absolutely impossible as the Bill stood to sign the nomination paper. [Cries of No, no!"]
§ *MR. MACARTNEY
said, the difficulty was that the Bill applied new machinery to the existing law. He had the highest authority for saying that the nomination papers could not be signed according to law. Under the Bill it would be absolutely impossible to make a nomination as the law required. There was another objection, one of machinery, which he had to the Bill, and it was one to which he thought the House should have some regard. In the city of Belfast there were over 38,000 municipal electors, and it was calculated on the best authority that the Bill would add something like 12,000 more. He had no objection to this increase, and he did not suppose that it would cause any great disturbance of the political constitution of the Town Council, but though the increase of electors might not much affect Belfast in this respect, it must make a considerable alteration in other towns where the corporation were of one complexion. He had no wish, however, to place any impediment on the free exercise of the Franchise as assented to on the Second Reading of the Bill, but he would point out that the House ought not to stultify itself by sending up to another place a Bill which was totally defective in the machinery by which the electors, on whom the hon. and learned Gentleman wished to confer the Franchise, would be enabled to avail themselves of it. To return to Belfast. At present there was one ward in the city in which over 11,000 municipal electors had to record their votes at one polling station, and there was no power at the present moment in the hands of the municipality or of any other authority in Ireland, to provide additional polling places. This was extremely inconvenient, and led to a great deal of unnecessary excitement on polling days. Everyone connected 975 with the business of the municipal elections in Belfast deprecated the present state of things, but the inconvenience which existed under the present law would be quadrupled by the large addition which the Bill proposed to make to the municipal electorate. Having regard to those facts, he thought it would have been a proper compliment to the machinery of the Bill if power had been given, either to the municipality or to some other authority in Ireland, to provide reasonable accommodation for the voters upon whom the Bill was going to confer the Franchise. He now came to the boroughs that would be affected by the 22nd Section of the Bill. These boroughs were municipal, and not Parliamentary boroughs, and he would take as examples the boroughs of Dungannon and Lisburn. What was the position of affairs at the present time in regard to those boroughs? In the borough of Dungannon the Commissioners exercised authority under the Act of 1828, and there was taxation on a £5 rating. It would be found that most of those towns in Ulster were satisfied with their local government; all those persons under the £5 rating took no share of the expenditure, the whole of which was provided out of the taxes levied on those upon whom the Franchise was conferred. Now the Bill provided no machinery for making out the lists of voters, but left matters just as they were, and the present system was not satisfactory. In Dungannon the list was made out every third year, prior to the triennial elections, by the Town Clerk, and revised by the Chairman of the Town Commissioners, notice being given of the date of the revision. Every male ratepayer of £5 rating and above was entitled to be put on, but there was no remedy for the ratepayer if the Town Clerk and the Chairman of Commissioners made a mistake.
§ *MR. MACARTNEY
said he had been informed on responsible authority that there would be no remedy by petition for the ratepayer in such case. There would be a right of petition under the Act of 1871 in the case of a Town Commissioner being wrongly elected, but in the case of a ratepayer qualified to be placed on the list of voters, that ratepayer had no remedy against mistake 976 except by a criminal action against the Town Clerk or proceedings by mandamus, and hon. Members, knowing the expense and trouble of such proceedings, would doubtless admit that this could hardly be regarded as a remedy. There was no provision under the Bill, therefore, by which there should be any revision of the new electors except the triennial revision, nor was any provision made by which a new elector could establish his right if that right was disputed by the Town Clerk or the Chairman of the Commissioners. The House would therefore see that it would be absurd to extend the Franchise to a large body of the inhabitants of Dungannon under such circumstances, the right of the elector being left entirely at the mercy of the Town Clerk or Chairman of the Town Commissioners. The town of Lisburn also came under Section 22, and here again the voters list was made out by the Town Clerk from the rate-book under the provisions of the Local Government Act of 1871. He was the sole judge of the persons to be placed on the list, and the ratepayer had no remedy against mistake. The only remedy, if it could be called a remedy, the ratepayer had if he found he was not on the list when the polling-day came, was to appear at the polling station and demand to vote. Then an inquiry might be made as to whether he had a right to the Franchise or not. But surely this could not be regarded as sufficient, and hon. Members must see that while this might be a comparatively simple matter when there was only a limited number of voters in the place, it would become very difficult when there was anything like a large number of voters. In such circumstances it would be absurd, he contended, to assent to a Bill which would increase the number of voters in such a town from about 700 to over 2,000, with no machinery provided for the protection of the Franchise it was proposed to extend. There was a third class of towns which were to be dealt with by the Bill, and they would come under the 23rd clause. This class of town, upon which it was proposed to force the machinery of the Bill with all its attendant responsibility and expense, had in many cases a population of less than 1,500. In many cases, moreover, the population of those towns bad largely 977 fallen since the time when, because it stood at that number, they were therefore enabled to claim the measure of local government they now enjoyed. He could quote case after case in proof of the fact, and he would instance the town of Antrim in the county of Antrim, where the population had diminished to 1385, and where the municipal revenue was only £106.
§ *MR. MACARTNEY
said, he certainly did, if they were going to extend the Franchise to the people of Antrim and similar places, because he wanted to see that those upon whom the Franchise was to be conferred, were provided with the necessary means of ascertaining and confirming their rights. Among other towns coming under this 23rd clause were Aughnacloy, with a population of 1,110 and a municipal revenue of £66 a year only; Bagnalston, with a population of 1,920, and a municipal revenue of £120, and the town of Castleblaney, with a population of 1,781, and a municipal revenue of about £100. On the Second Reading of the Bill he objected to it being extended to many of the towns of this class and he did so still. He asked the House to consider whether there was any instance in the Municipal Government of England approaching to the condition which would exist in Ireland under this Bill if it should become law. He did not think there was any English county Member there present who would be able to point to any instance in England of small towns—only villages, in fact—where the local government was separate from the local government of the county, and upon which all the responsibilities and consequent expense, which occurred in the larger municipalities, would be forced upon a small municipal population with an absolutely insufficient income. His view was that these small towns ought to have the option of deciding whether they wished to take advantage of the provisions of this Bill, or whether they would prefer to remain under the Government which now existed in these small villages and townships. If they did express a desire to take advantage of the provisions of the Bill, to undertake the responsibilities, and to become answerable for the expenditure which it 978 would necessarily entail, then they ought to have the opportunity of doing so. Having recently had an opportunity of consulting the inhabitants of these small towns, he asserted that they had no desire to encumber themselves with responsibilities which they thought would seriously embarrass their townships on account of the expenditure which the new provisions would necessarily entail upon them. These towns, which would come under Section 23, would number something like 85; and here again there was absolutely no machinery for revision of the new Voters' List, which was left absolutely to the discretion of the Town Clerk, from whom there was no appeal except by the expensive method of mandamus or by criminal prosecution. The utterly inadequate and objectionable character of such machinery for preparing a register of voters even on the existing Franchise is described in Heron's Municipal Election in Ireland pp. 32, 34 as follows:—The Legislature has cast the important and responsible duty of preparing the list of persons entitled to vote upon the Town Clerk, but has failed to provide him with the necessary machinery for satisfactorily performing it, yet the Voters' List as prepared by him is as conclusive, as regards the qualification of a person to vote, as the one which (as we have seen) has been revised and settled in open Court, upon sworn evidence, by the mayor and assessors or by the revising barrister, after a preliminary List has been published and time allowed for the service of notice of claims and objections to it, and for the publication of such claims and objections. The Town Clerk, without those aids and safeguards, prepares his List not in public but privately in his office. He decides there on the best evidence he can get whether a person is or is not qualified to vote, and his decision is absolute and without appeal. It is not necessary for him to assign any reason for his having put the name of one person on, or omitted the name of another from, the List. He may endeavour to discharge this duty in the most painstaking, impartial, and strictly legal manner, yet he is liable to error; and besides, it is unsatisfactory for those ratepayers whose names are omitted from the List not to know the grounds upon which they are disqualified to vote. It may be open to anyone who considers that he has been unfairly, or with malice intent, disfranchised, to take an action, or institute a criminal prosecution against the Town Clerk. The Town Clerk would not, however, his duties being of a judicial character in regard to the preparation of the List be liable for any mistake he might make through an error of judgment—see the Queen v. the Justices of Armagh, 1861 (6 "Irish Jurist N.S.", p. 12), where it was held that the preparation of the Lists of jurors is a judicial act. An elector would not have time to obtain 979 a mandamus to compel the Town Clerk to place his name on the List of Voters, because he could not ascertain that his name had been omitted from the List until the date on which the List is published—viz., ten days before the election. The List is conclusive and final even upon an election tribunal, except in regard to persons inherently disqualified.Having regard to the facts which he had stated, he thought he was justified in asking the House to agree to the Amendment which he had placed upon the Paper. He believed that it would be injurious, if not absolutely fatal, to the whole system of Standing Committees in that House, if the House were now going to sanction the method by which this Bill and the Amendments to it were treated in the Standing Committee on Law. If suggestions put forward by the minority, which affected, not the principle, but only the machinery, of a Bill were to be treated with absolute disregard—with disregard apparently assented to by the Minister in charge of the administration of the country to which the Bill applied—then, he asserted, it would be impossible for the House on a Second Reading, to confine the Debate to those general considerations to which it ought to be confined, and it would, in future, be impossible for himself and his Friends to assent to any Irish Bill going before any Grand Committee, and he did not think that the present Chief Secretary could feel surprise at that. He imagined that when the political complexion of affairs was changed in the House, hon. Gentlemen who disagreed with him had no reason to complain of want of readiness on the part of the then Chief Secretary in meeting the wishes of hon. Gentlemen opposed to them. [Ironical laughter and cries of Closure !" from the Nationalist Benches.] The closure was only invoked when all patience was exhausted, but he and his Friends did not exhaust the patience of the Standing Committee on this Bill. There were, however, other Amendments which they would have desired to press on the Committee, if they had felt that there was any desire in the majority of the Members of the Committee to give them a fair hearing, and if they had seen that the Chief Secretary had any adequate knowledge of the machinery of the Bill. He complained, with regret, that the Chief Secretary did not take the trouble to inform himself in such a way 980 as to be able to detect the grave failures in the machinery of the Bill which he had now pointed out, and which would, in his view, render the Bill absolutely inoperative.
§ MR. J. ROSS (Londonderry)
, in rising to second the Amendment, protested against such Bills as this being entrusted to private Members. He admitted the special knowledge of the Gentlemen in charge of this Bill, but there was not a single clause in it which did not show that it was a measure which ought to have received more thorough investigation by means of the investigation which was at the disposal of the Government, but which was not at the disposal of private Members. He sometimes doubted whether Gentlemen below the Gangway were serious in regard to this Bill, for, if they had desired to wreck it they could not have adopted better means than they did in the Grand Committee upon it. He had been singled out by the hon. Gentleman as the representative of a city where an old and effete system existed. It was quite true that in the city of Derry they had been left under the system established in 1840, when the population which had now grown to 36,000, was only 16,000. Nobody in Derry was in favour of the maintenance of that system. He and his constituents were most anxious that the Franchise should be popularised and lowered. The hon. and learned Gentleman had stated that there was not a Roman Catholic official employed by the corporation of Derry. He believed that was so, and he regretted it very much, but Derry was not the only place where that state of things existed. In the south of Ireland they would find places where the whole of the officials were Catholics. He made a proposition in the Grand Committee with the object of lowering the Franchise in Derry, and distributing the city into proper wards. But the hon. and learned Gentleman met that proposal by merely suggesting that they should go back to the three wards that were set up by the Act of 1840.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
I said that the matter was out of order. So it was, and so is the hon. and learned Member's disccussion of it now.
§ MR. ROSS
said, the hon. and learned Gentleman most distinctly said that the cure for the present state of things in 981 Derry was to return to the three wards set up in 1840, when the population of the town was only 16,000. He most strongly complained of the way in which this matter was conducted in the Grand Committee. It did not merely affect this Bill, it affected the entire procedure and deserved the very close attention of the House, because, if it were permitted to go on, very great abuse might arise in connection with the working of the Grand Committees. They had thought that in the Grand Committee the Bill would receive thorough discussion and investigation, but they found that the hon. and learned Gentleman had determined to accept no Amendment, however reasonable or necessary, simply for the purpose of evading the Report Stage in the House. Amendment after Amendment was moved, but they were put down roughshod by a Party majority. The Chief Secretary never opened his mouth at all; the Solicitor General did occasionally intervene, but in a great number of instances, when perfectly clear points were made to which any lawyer would have assented, the hon. and learned Gentleman threw in his vote with the brute majority. The Lord Advocate was also present, but he never intervened with a single word. He (the speaker) and his Friends were not quite so silly as not to see the game that was being played. They had some self-respect, and seeing that the reasons which they gave were not considered at all, they ceased to give any reasons, and determined to bring the matter before the House as they now did. This was an exceedingly complicated Bill. A great number of clauses from English Statutes were introduced, and were wholly inapplicable to Ireland. On the other hand a number of clauses and provisions in the English Bill were not introduced, and the Bill took up the lofty position of providing practically no machinery at all. The fourth section conferred the Franchise upon every occupier. He need not be either the owner or tenant, and need not pay rates or taxes. That was simply preposterous. No doubt in the English Act of 1882 it was not explained that an occupier should be either an owner or a tenant. He did not know how it worked in England, but he knew very well how it would work in Ireland. In Ireland 982 people had much more political talent than in England. There were parts of Ireland where politics and registration were the serious business of people's lives. There were more registration appeals from the city of Derry than from the whole of England, Scotland, and Wales put together. The House could see the fine scope that would be given to those able and energetic persons with electioneering talents the moment this Bill was passed. At once the municipalities would be nobbled; every human being, male or female, would be crammed upon the list, and the people who really paid the rates would have no voice whatever. It was quite reasonable they should seek to assimilate the Municipal and Parliamentary Franchises, but to put every occupier on the list was to reduce the whole system in Ireland to a harlequinade. They would be told that this was fully and fairly discussed in the Grand Committee, but he doubted very much whether a discussion of that importance should have taken place in the Grand Committee on Law, and having regard to the importance of the question, the hon. and learned Gentleman should not have had recourse to the manœuvre of evading a discussion on Report in the House. They were told that everything was to be made right by the House of Lords, that body that was to be abolished, and that could not be sufficiently abused. A new function was to be cast upon the House of Lords. It was to take the place of the Committee of the House of Commons. The House of Commons was to abandon its duty of criticising a measure in Committee, and in a crude and unworkable stage it was to be sent to the House of Lords, who were to do what the House of Commons should originally have done. He did not think the House of Lords would quite relish this new duty which hon. Members sought to thrust upon them. His hon. Friend, who had moved the recommittal of the Bill, had shown that it was full of defects, and unworkable. By Clause 15, an occupier was to receive notice of the non-payment of his taxes from the Collector General, if he resided in Dublin, and from the Poor Law Guardians if he resided in another municipal borough. But how were the Guardians, how was the Collector General to obtain the information which 983 must be in their possession before they could act? If they should fail to give notice of non-payment, they would be liable to a penalty of £2, and yet no machinery was provided in the Bill for the purpose of enabling them to obtain the information which it was essential that they should have. This point was brought before the Committee, but was contemptuously pushed aside, and no explanation was vouschafed. Another matter to which attention was called was the proposed treatment of officials. The rights of Town Clerks and other servants of corporations ought to be safeguarded. These officials ought not to be placed at the mercy of new bodies. Everyone knew what would happen—they would, practically all be ejected as soon as the new regime came into operation. Then, upon poor rate collectors, a great burden was cast by this Bill. Under the 12th clause, the names of occupiers were to be entered in the rate book. It would, therefore, become the duty of collectors to hunt for occupiers. [Mr. T. M. HEALY: "Was an Amendment moved on this point?"] He held that he was within his rights in raising objections to proposals in this Bill, even if no Amendments to these proposals had been moved in Committee. It did not lie in the mouths of those who dragooned the Committee and flouted every reasonable Amendment to object to criticism on the ground that, in respect of the point criticised, no Amendment had been moved. As he was saying, under this Bill occupiers must be hunted up by the unfortunate rate collectors. There might be 20 people qualified as occupiers in respect of a single room. A room might be considered to constitute a dwelling-house, and there would be joint qualification, and so if 20 people took one room they would be able to vote in respect of it. [Mr. T. M. HEALY: "Nonsense !"] Cries of nonsense were not arguments. It was convenient when hon. Members were not able to answer arguments reasonably to reply by disorderly and unreasonable interruptions. He would draw the attention of the hon. and learned Member who interrupted to the third sub-section of Section 4, which said—A person occupying any such premises as aforesaid jointly with any other person or 984 persons shall be deemed an occupier of such premises within the meaning of this section.A room might be a dwelling-house, and persons who occupied it jointly were to be entitled to vote. Under the Parliamentary Representation of the People Act there could only be one inhabitant occupier, but under this measure there might be 20 such occupiers. For the discharge of the additional duties imposed upon them the poor-rate collectors were not to receive one sixpence. They were, however, to be liable to penalties. Any person whose name was omitted from the lists would have the right to bring an action in a Civil Bill Court against the rate collector for a penalty of £2. That could be done where mere negligence on the part of the collector was alleged. In England this was not the law. Here the omission of a name to constitute a ground of action must be wilful, and the overseers were the people to be rendered amenable. Then under the 15th clause the rate collectors were required to serve an immense number of notices, and in default were liable to penalties. Under the 13th clause owners or immediate lessors would be bound to supply lists of occupiers. Where the occupiers were their tenants they would of course have no difficulty, but to require them to supply lists of mere occupants would be monstrous. Fancy the position of an old lady who owned a tenement house and collected her own rents, and who was expected to prepare lists of all the successive occupants during the year! Yet if she made an error in enumerating the many occupants who might have occupied the premises, she was to be liable to legal proceedings. By Clause 23 townships were brought within the operation of the Bill, but no special machinery was provided for application to their case. Apparently the machinery applicable to boroughs under Section 12 was not to apply to townships. This must lead to confusion. The town clerk would be the master of the entire situation. He would be able to put A, B, C, etc., on the lists, or to omit them just as he pleased. He would only have to say that the omission of a name was an error of judgment, and there would be no remedy. It would be said that this was possible under the existing system. True; but at present the number 985 of the electors was small, and therefore it was possible for a town clerk to discharge his duty efficiently. But when they increased the electorate to this enormous extent it was absurd and ridiculous to think that one man could do the work. The only answer given to the objections raised to the proposals of the Bill before the Grand Committee was, that proposals were in the English Act. But he would point out at least one objectionable feature that was not in the English Act. He referred to sub-Section 12 of Section 18, which proposed that all appeals from decisions of the municipal reviser should go, like appeals from the Parliamentary revising barrister, direct to the Court of Appeal. The law of England was different in this matter from the law of Ireland. In England all questions affecting the Parliamentary Franchise camefirst before the Queen's Bench Division; and if an important point should arise it was allowed to go to the Court of Appeal. But in Ireland the Nationalist Members had always affected to look with suspicion on Queen's Bench; they said the Judges of the Court had all been Tory law-officers; and so they got it arranged that all Parliamentary Franchise appeals should go to the Court of Appeal. The consequence was that the court of Appeal was the most congested court in the country; and although its Judges were most hard-working, it was always in arrear with its business. But it was now proposed by the Bill that, in addition to the Parliamentary Franchise appeals, all those unimportant Municipal Franchise appeals were to go direct to the Court of Appeal. Could anything be more ridiculous or absurd than to send trumpery questions of that kind to the highest and busiest court in the land? Why should not the English course be adopted, and these appeals be sent, in the first instance, to the Court of Queen's Bench? He had only given a few instances of the unworkable proposals of the Bill. Yet it had been described by the Chief Secretary as a scientific Bill. The right hon. Gentleman's notions of a scientific Bill were certainly peculiar. He submitted that the question of the Irish Municipal Franchise was a big subject, and that it ought not to be dealt with in a Party spirit at all. The people of the north of Ireland were perfectly 986 willing to support a fair and just measure of municipal reform. But this Bill was not of that character. It had, besides, been rushed through the House in an unprecedented manner; the forms of the House had been abused in the case of this Bill in a way they had never been abused before; and for his part, if there were no other reason, he would, on that account, protest against the Third Reading of the Bill.
§ MR. HERBERT PAUL (Edinburgh, S.)
said, that as a Member of the Standing Committee on Law to which this Bill was referred, he desired to say a few words in the defence of the majority which had been described in the picturesque eloquence of the hon. and learned Member for Derry, as brutal, as hostile, and dragooning. He was sorry the hon. and learned Gentleman did not explain in what sense he had used those epithets. The Committee was not brutal to the hon. and learned Member, it certainly was not hostile to the Bill, and it did not dragoon the Bill. Judging from what the hon. and learned Gentleman said his grievance was that he was not allowed to dragoon it himself. He had great sympathy with the hon. and learned Gentleman as he represented a city in which they had been told on good authority, every man, woman, and child knew the Franchise Acts and Registration Acts by heart. He could not imagine a deeper state of intellectual darkness in which any town could live. The opposition to the Bill was mainly conducted by the hon. and learned Gentleman, and by the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell) who had favoured them with a few observations that day.
§ MR. HERBERT PAUL
begged the hon. Member's pardon. He meant to say the hon. Member for South Antrim. Here was also in opposition his hon. and learned Friend, the Member for Mid Armagh, whose constituency and its corporation, and the manner in which that corporation exercised its patronage, had been vividly described to them that day. He had no doubt the legal and technical difficulties which had been raised in the House by the hon. Member for South Antrim and by the hon. and learned Member for Derry were new 987 friends to the House. If so, he congratulated the House upon the pleasure of making their acquaintance. Those difficulties were old friends of his. He heard every one of them raised in Committee, and he heard them answered fully and satisfactorily by the hon. and learned Member for North Louth, and by his brother, who represented the City of Cork. But there was one of those points to which, with the permission of the House, he would refer, and he would refer to it because it was the only subject on which he took the liberty of saying a word to the Committee—it was the subject of registration appeal. The Bill provided that in case of a municipal appeal the decision of the revising barrister should be reviewed directly by the Court of Appeal instead of passing through the intermediary agency of the Queen's Bench Division. The hon. Member complained that it was a departure from the practice in this country. So far as it was a departure from the practice in this country, he thought it was a good departure. No greater social grievance and injustice existed in matters connected with the administration of the law than the multiplicity of appeals which gave the victory not to the best cause, but to the longest purse. But this English practice was a very new one. Before the Judicature Acts there was only one appeal from a revising barrister in this country—an appeal to the Court of Common Pleas, whose decision in such cases was absolutely final. That was a good specimen of the points which were raised in this Committee, and for which the majority of the Committee were attacked because they would not accept the Amendments. He maintained that the discussion in the Grand Committee was thorough as well as exhaustive, and he did not believe there was a point which the ingenuity of any lawyer could have raised which was not discussed there. He had one great disadvantage in discussing this Bill as compared with the hon. Member for South Antrim—he had no acquaintance with the gentlemen who conducted the government of Dungannon. Non cuivis homini contingit adire Corinthum. But there was an argument employed by the hon. Member which appeared to him to be the most singular he had ever heard adduced. It was said that this 988 Bill was not one to which the House gave its sanction on the Second Reading; and the hon. Member complained that the Grand Committee made no change in the Bill. The hon. Member urged, indeed, that the House had been deceived because its sanction to the Bill had been obtained, and then the Bill was presented to it for Third Reading in the same shape as that in which it was read a second time. A more singular argument he had never listened to. Again, the hon. Member urged that this was not in all respects a Bill in conformity with the municipal law of this country. There were some cases in which in Ireland the municipal qualification was only one of three months, whereas in this country it was one of 12 months; and those cases were left by this Bill as they were before. Was it possible at this time, when both sides of the House proposed to lower the period of qualification in this country—one side to three and the other side to six months—that the House would deliberately lengthen the necessary period for municipal purposes in Ireland? It was inconceivable that such an Amendment could obtain the sanction of either Party in the House or of any Committee to which such a Bill might be referred. The fact was, that the difficulty about understanding this Bill had been enormously exaggerated. Hon. Members had complained of the silence of the Government. The Chief Secretary was one of the most overworked men in the country, and he had done his best in connection with the Bill. The Solicitor General dealt with the legal questions that arose in Committee in a spirit of genial humour which in itself was a form of lucidity. The Government made no attempt to put pressure on their supporters. It really appeared, however, that it was difficult to satisfy the critics of the Bill. They were not against the measure, and yet they complained that it had not been altered in the form in which they desired to see it appear. This, however, was not the only Bill which had passed through a Standing Committee without amendment even during the present Session. There was, for example, the Rating and Machinery Bill, which had come back to the House in the form in which it went before the Committee. He had been told that the hon. Member for South St. Pancras was 989 in the Chair, and that he would not allow anyone to speak; but in this Grand Committee there was a most patient, indulgent, and courteous chairman in the hon. Member for East Donegal, who allowed everyone to speak as much as he pleased. This Committee had been subjected to a great deal of attack, but he did not know who was supposed to have coerced the Committee. Personally, he came to the consideration of the Bill with an impartial mind. He had no special knowledge of the subject, except that he had taken the precaution to read the Bill. But he perceived early in the proceedings of the Committee what was the character of the Amendments being moved. They were restrictive Amendments; they would, in his judgment, have individually impaired and collectively destroyed the effect of the measure. Acting on that belief, and having listened to the Debates on the Bill, he voted against every Amendment proposed. The divisions were not all taken on strictly Party lines. The hon. Member for Partick voted in the majority, and so did the hon. Member for East Somerset. It was said that the effect of not having accepted any of the Amendments was to evade the stage of Report. Evasion was a very easy word to use and a difficult one to define. He should like to appeal to the Leader of the Opposition. The right hon. Gentleman had laid down principles which he thought ought to guide the House in sending Bills before Standing Committees. Personally, he thought that all Bills ought to go before Standing Committees. Now this Bill was not a contentious measure; it was read a second time without a Division. It might be said that the Irish Land Bill was also read a second time without a Division; but, at any rate, this Bill was sent to the Standing Committee on Law without a Division. No evidence had been brought forward to show that the Standing Committee had not considered on its merits every Amendment brought forward; and he must distinctly assert that every Amendment was so considered. The fact was, the opponents of the Bill would not divide against it in the House. They tried to whittle it down and destroy its effect in Committee, and now asked the House to censure the Committee and to say that its proceedings should be set 990 aside, and that the Bill should go through the ordeal of Committee of the whole House, which meant that it could not be carried this Session. He was sincerely anxious that the Municipal Franchise in Ireland should be reformed; and he thought that to lose this opportunity would be foolish and criminal. But there was something more important at stake in this proposal than the reform of the Municipal Franchise in Ireland, and that was the efficacy of the Standing Committees. If without a particle of evidence, and merely on the representation of those who happened to have been defeated in Committee, the proceedings of the Committee were to be set aside, they might as well abolish Standing Committees altogether; and he earnestly appealed to the House not to allow this Bill, which had been fully, fairly, temperately, and impartially considered before a proper tribunal, to be, under the guise of recommittal, destroyed and prevented from becoming law.
§ MR. DUNBAR BARTON (Armagh, Mid)
observed, that his hon. Friend had said that he was in favour of referring every Bill to a Standing Committee, but he did not think that any large section of the House was prepared to sanction such a proposal. An essential part of the proposal now before the House was that this Bill was wholly unfit to be dealt with by Standing Committee.
§ MR. BARTON
Yes, but that was a pure mishap. His right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition protested very strongly against that course being taken, and a Division would certainly have been forced if there had been a sufficient number of Members in the House to have justified it. His hon. Friend frankly admitted that he thought all Bills ought to go to a Grand Committee, and that, in his opinion, showed a latitude of mind which detracted largely from the value of his hon. Friend's speech. He wished to make three observations on the speech of the hon. Member who moved the Third Reading of the Bill. In the first place, he believed the Bill, in itself, was in one particular wholly unworkable, and that rendered it most difficult to be dealt with by any tribunal. The Bill 991 entirely departed from the English precedent. In England the extension of the Franchise had always been accompanied by machinery for adapting the new Franchise to the old circumstances, but this Bill departed from that precedent. If the Motion to recommit the Bill was carried, he should certainly move an Instruction to admit other matters to be dealt with, which ought to be dealt with if the Bill was to be carried in a workable form. His second observation was that the Bill dealt with two different subject matters—namely, the municipal corporations in certain cities, and the smaller towns and townships. Many hon. Members had not the same objection to that part of the Bill which dealt with municipal corporations, that they had to that part which dealt with the smaller towns and townships. He, for one, was perfectly prepared to deal with the municipal corporations on the same lines as the English corporations had been dealt with; but the Bill did not follow the English precedent, but threw in all the small towns and townships. His third observation was that the Bill ought never to have been sent to a Grand Committee, inasmuch as it was a political Bill introduced by hon. Members below the Gangway, who voted down the minority from beginning to end on pure Party lines. English Members, too, on the Committee voted solid against every Amendment, without the smallest consideration for the arguments of the minority. On that point the Freeman's Journal said:—Nothing could be better than the way in which the English Liberal Members sat out the proceedings and prevented the Unionists from mutilating the Bill.It was said that no Government Whip was issued. No Whip by the Government was necessary, for a Whip was sent out by the Masters of the Government, by whose permission the Government existed. If ever a number of English and Scotch Members were Whipped up to vote on a subject without reasonable consideration, it was on this occasion. The hon. Member who moved the Third Reading of the Bill referred to the religion of certain Members of the Commission in one of the towns in his (Mr. Barton's) Division. He did not know what the religion of 992 those gentleman was, but the statement of the hon. Gentleman showed that the object of the Bill was to make a clean sweep of all the Protestant officials in Ulster. It was very wise therefore on the part of the hon. and learned Member not to allow the Bill to contain anything but the Franchise. From the beginning to the end the Chief Secretary took no part in the proceedings of the Committee, and he now exulted in and boasted of it; and the Solicitor General intervened only on two occasions when he rose and simply corroborated the hon. and learned Member for North Louth. But as the Chief Secretary cheered these statements, he would ask what would Scotch Members say if such a Bill dealing with the burghs of Scotland passed through a Grand Committee without a single Amendment being accepted, because the Amendments were resisted by a majority of the opposite Party.
§ MR. DUNBAR BARTON
thought it would take a great deal to bring Scotch Members to that conclusion, and that they would not accept such a Bill so passed through a Committee of the Whole House. Was it to be said that only a Bill drafted by the Nationalist Members could be so perfect that no Amendment could be made in it? The hon. and learned Member for Louth said there was nothing in this Bill that was not in operation in England; but let it be understood that that statement was challenged as being without foundation, because there were differences between this Bill and English law, not only upon minor, but also upon very vital, points, including the most vital of all—that of qualification. In the 31st line of the Bill were introduced the words "whether separately rated or not," and these were not in the English Act. It might, perhaps, be plausibly argued that the words were immaterial and made no difference whatever: but there was a great deal to be said on the other side; and, having regard to the construction which some might be disposed to put on the words, it was a matter which ought to be fairly considered. At all events, it was strongly objected that when they were called upon to pass a 993 Bill on English lines they should be asked to accept one containing these words, which did not occur in the English Act. Then, in lines 32 and 34, dealing with the qualification of a councillor, there were inserted the words "residence" and "apartments," which were not in the English Bill. It was said that the decision in the English Court in Greenay v. Bachelor had decided that the words of the English Act included "residence" and "apartments;" and, if that were so, he denied that the Irish Courts would not give effect to the decision. If the authors of the Bill insisted upon the insertion of these words, they could not argue that it did not make the Bill wider than the English Act. Then the Bill would allow furnished houses to be sub-let for the Parliamentary Franchise; but this was not the law in England.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
was understood to say that it was, and that it was extended to Ireland for the municipal burgess list.
§ MR. DUNBAR BARTON
continued that, with regard to appeals, there was a clear difference between this Bill and the English law. Appeals are sent in England to one tribunal, and in Ireland to another; and no reason was given why the difference should be made. The argument of the hon. Member for Edinburgh was against all appeals; and in his opinions he stood almost alone. The most important and vital part of the Bill was the period of qualification. In England a year's residence was required; but in Ireland it was cut down by this Bill to six months in Dublin and three months in other towns. ["Hear, hear."] Perhaps the hon. Member who cheered would like to have a week's qualification! They were supposed to be assimilating the Irish Franchise to the English, and yet in an important particular this great difference was made. The hon. and learned Member had written to the Irish papers stating that under the old £10 rating Franchise there was six months' residence; he also added that under £10 in England there was the same. That was no answer unless you followed the English precedent and required 12 months' residence for the borough occupation Franchise; and this was what the opponents of the Bill as it stood 994 insisted upon. It could not be denied that the safeguard of a year's qualification made a serious difference between the English measure and this Bill; and this was the main and central point of the Bill. It could not be said that it assimilated the law of Ireland to that of England, for it did not. It had been clearly pointed out that this Bill dealt with the machinery of municipal corporations in a way that was unsuitable and unworkable. There were no provisions for the re-arrangement of wards, nor as to the way in which elections were to be carried out.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said, these things were provided for by a special English Act, and there would have to be a special Irish Act.
§ MR. DUNBAR BARTON
continued that that reply only showed how reckless this legislation was. Then in England rates were collected by overseers, who held a wholly different position from rate collectors in Ireland, and were paid in a different way. The partial adoption of the English machinery made the Bill unworkable. In Committee the omission of several clauses was moved, but every proposal of the kind was voted down. It was not he only, or only Unionist Members, who made these complaints; but they had been embodied in a Report made to the Dublin Corporation by their own town clerk upon this Bill. The town clerk wrote:—The changes that would be effected by it would be that every occupier would be entitled to be placed on the burgess roll, and every woman proving her claim to be a burgess. In Dublin considerable difficulty would arise owing to the Parliamentary voters' list being made out in four Parliamentary Divisions, whereas the burgess roll covered 15 wards, and some of those overlapped the Parliamentary Divisions. A heavy additional expenditure in making up the burgess roll would be thrown on the citizens since it would be the Parliamentary list plus all the women entitled to be on the burgess roll. Another important matter that would take place was that the assessors as now existing would be abolished. No provision was made for the appointment in Dublin of substitutes for these assessors. He regarded the abolition of assessors, which was practically a piece of patronage of the Corporation, as a very serious matter. He supposed there would be provision, although it was not made in the Bill, for appointing revising barristers, as in counties, and that the appointment would go to the Crown.Nationalist officials of a Nationalist corporation in Dublin bore out arguments 995 which were voted down in that House as preposterous and absurd. The most serious blot in the Bill was the entire absence of machinery for dealing with the other smaller towns dealt with by Clause 23. This 23rd clause attempted to deal with the machinery of the large municipal corporations; but it dealt with it inefficiently, and in a way that should be remedied in Committee. In England, the smaller towns were dealt with by the Parish Councils Act of last year and everything worked with ease. When these small towns formed a district or part of a county there was the whole county list to go to, and the county machinery for correcting the lists, having objections made and revised by some responsible authority. But in Ireland there was no such machinery for these purposes, and it was proposed now to have a new list made for each one of these little districts scattered over Irish counties, without giving any machinery by means of which they could be carried out. At present, in these places, the sole person responsible was the town clerk. This was possible with the present limited electorate, but when they enlarged the electorate ten times, how could the town clerk alone attend to these matters. How were elections to be conducted? The thing was absolutely impossible, and the expense would more than swamp the rates. It was absurd to bring in this enormously increased electorate, and to throw these difficult and costly duties upon the town clerk without giving him a staff to do it and without a penny to pay for it, and incurring expense which would be greater than the rating of some of these small towns. When this 23rd clause came to be examined by those acquainted with the subject, it would be found utterly impossible and unworkable, and it ought never to have found a place in this Bill. The hon. Member for Louth's answer that all this was—How am I to explain to my constituents how Drogheda is a corporation, and is to have its Franchise lowered under this Bill while Dundalk, a town of the same size, would not come under this Bill.Dundalk ought to be a corporation, and it was Dundalk's own fault that it was not a corporation under the Municipal Corporations Act. If Dundalk became 996 a corporation it would come under the Bill, and be saved impossible duties, and extravagant and ruinous expenditure. When it was proposed that this Bill should go to a Grand Committee, the Chief Secretary for Ireland clearly, from what he said, contemplated the possibility of the Bill passing through Committee without Amendment. He said that if there were any serious abuse of the powers of the majority in the Grand Committee it would be open to the House to recommit the Bill, and it would then be in the power of the House to discuss every clause. What the Chief Secretary had contemplated had happened. It had gone through without Amendment, and the majority had tyrannically overridden the minority. Could the House conceive a Bill more requiring its clauses to be carefully considered than a Bill dealing with the franchise of 120 towns in Ireland. It was a case of res ipsa loquitur—the thing spoke for itself. Nationalist corporations had protested against the powers of this Bill. Irish Unionist Members tried to amend it in accordance with their complaints. They, equally with the supporters of the Bill, admitted the necessity and expediency of extending the Franchise in Ireland in the same way as in England, and adopting English machinery to the circumstances of Ireland. But the Nationalist Party had introduced a Bill, which in a vital point differed from the English Franchise, and went beyond it. They had brought in a Bill which contained none of the safeguards and accompanying provisions of the English Bill, and had forced it through a Grand Committee without—so to speak—allowing an "i" to be dotted or a "t" to be crossed, by a majority voting solidly and regularly for everything the hon. Member for Louth wanted. All the arguments and ingenuity of the Chief Secretary would fail to convince either the House or the country that the Bill had been fairly discussed, or that anything had happened except a gross abuse of the forms of the House.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
said, there were two questions in dispute in the Debate—first of all, the conduct of the Grand Committee; and, secondly, whether the Bill applied the law of England to the 997 Irish situation. As regarded the conduct of the Grand Committee it had not been made clear to him that this Committee had done anything beyond its statutory powers. This Bill was deliberately referred to the Standing Committee on Law. Fifteen Irish Members were added to the Committee in respect of the Bill. That Bill was representative of the entire House, the Government merely having the majority it was entitled to, the same relative majority it had in the House of Commons. The Bill was submitted to the Committee, and discussed for several days. The charge now made was that Amendments were voted down. But he had seen Amendments voted down in that House. The House had been sitting on the Welsh Church Bill for a long time. He had never seen, an Amendment of the opponents of the Bill carried yet, and he had never heard anyone defend the Bill, except the Minister in charge. Therefore, it seemed to him that the charge to the Grand Committee exceeded its power because its rejected Amendments was really no charge at all, and it struck at the root of the authority of the Standing Committee that a charge like that should be entertained by the House of Commons. He himself would shortly be in charge of a Bill before the Grand Committee on Trade, and was he to be told if in the exercise of his discretion he chose to vote against all the Amendments proposed by opponents of the Bill, and he persuaded the Committee to follow him in the Divisions that that was an abuse of the powers of a Standing Committee?
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said, he was not quite certain that his hon. Friend had improved his case. It was to be presumed that the Members of the Standing Committee were in the main reasonable men. He could not concur in the charge against the Standing Committee that it had not acted within its right. The Standing Committee might have been utterly wrong in what they had done, and ho was very far from approving of everything they had done, but the charge which had been made 998 against them needed a great deal more proof. He had been standing upon platforms for the Unionist Party night after night, week in and week out, and his position, and that of the Unionist Party generally was this, that whilst they were prepared to resist to the uttermost the concession of the primary claim of hon. Members opposite below the Gangway, they were not only willing but anxious that Ireland should have the same form of local government that England and Scotland possessed. Was he to be asked deliberately to stultify himself and to be told that on a question like the Municipal Franchise in Ireland he was to take up a different position in that House to that which he had taken up on every platform on which he had spoken? If all the Unionist Members from Ulster took up that position he should refuse to do so, because he believed it to be a totally false position in regard to the primary question at issue, which was of greater importance than all these questions put together. The first objection was in regard to the qualifying period, and if the House last year in the Parish Councils Bill fixed the qualifying period as 12 months for England and Wales, then there was a case for saying that this Bill differentiated between England and Ireland in that matter. So far as was possible he was for making the law in these matters the same in Ireland as it was in England, and what was good enough for England last year was good enough for Ireland now. He thought the hon. Member for South Antrim had made a good case for his contention that there was no machinery for carrying out this measure effectively in Ireland. He must say, however, that the Motion to re-commit the Bill ought to have been a Motion to re-commit it in view of that special deficiency, and if his hon. Friends opposite had confined themselves to that, they would not have opened the whole question in Committee but only one specific issue. Hon. Members must either be in favour of differentiating between England and Ireland, or admitting that this Bill was defective in regard to machinery. He was quite content to let the Bill go to the House of Lords, and to deal with the Amendments the House of Lords might make when it came back, but he would not 999 consent to have this question of Municipal Franchise in Ireland hung up for ever and a day. He was heartily sick and ashamed of these stories about Belfast and Derry. He would not vote for the re-committal of the Bill, because it was not specifically declared in regard to what it was to be re-committed. That the Bill was defective must, he thought, be admitted by the hon. and learned Member for Louth.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said, it was perhaps too much to expect any admission from the hon. and learned Member, but he thought the House generally would admit it. It was because he wished the law in Ireland to be assimilated to that in England that he should do what he could to let the Bill go to the other House.
§ MR. H. O. ARNOLD-FORSTER (Belfast, W.)
, asked if it would be in order to move an Amendment in respect of two clauses alone of this Bill during the discussion.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
said, that if the question which was before the House—viz., that the words now proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill was answered in the negative, then the Motion of the hon. Member for Armagh would become the substantive Motion, and it would be competent for any hon. Member then to move an Amendment.
THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. JOHN MORLEY, New-castle-upon-Tyne)
I think the strong and clear speech of the hon. Member for South Tyrone must have caused considerable searching of heart amongst, at all events, English Conservative Members who have been inclined to vote for the Amendment before the House. The hon. Member has said that what hon. Gentlemen opposite are doing is to go upon every platform in Great Britain and to say that they desire to place local Irish institutions upon the same footing as that on which those institutions exist in this country. The hon. Member has truly said that no Englishman, whether he is a Unionist or a Home Ruler, could for all these years have faced the state of things which has been described by the hon. and learned Member for Louth in Belfast and in Derry without feeling that 1000 same sense of shame which the hon. Member for South Tyrone confessed to feeling. A great deal has been said as to the conduct of business on the Grand Committee. Before I go to that part of the discussion I will just dwell for a moment upon the tolerably severe remarks made by the mover of the Amendment upon the conduct of the Irish Government and upon myself. The hon. Member did not see that in those remarks he was bringing forward what might easily and logically be developed into one of the strongest arguments for Home Rule that could possibly be used in this House. For what did he say? He said, not for the first time, that the Irish officials—the Irish Office, as he called them—had grossly neglected their duty. He said, in the second place, that he did not wonder that I was ignorant of all this legislation, because I was an Englishman who occasionally amused himself by passing a few weeks in Ireland. I venture to say that nobody who has ever held the office which I have now the honour of holding has ever devoted more labour and more attention to acquiring a knowledge of Irish facts. Then of a Minister, who I think he will admit has devoted all his time, attention, and industry to acquiring this knowledge, he says we do not expect anything from, because he is an Englishman and he must be ignorant. And yet what he insists on is that Ireland is to go on being governed by a Minister who must be ignorant and by officials who misinform him.
§ MR. MACARTNEY
said, it was no part of the Unionist policy that a Chief Secretary should be an Englishman.
MR. J. MORLEY
That opens up an altogether new view. If the hon. Member thinks that it is part of the Unionist policy for the Chief Secretary to be an Irishman, I would remind him that there has only been one Irishman in that office since the Union. Little as I think of English Chief Secretaries, if Irish Chief Secretaries are to be chosen from the little band for whom the hon. Member speaks, and whom he represents, all I can say is that Ireland has gone through many days of tribulation, but that I think her worst days of tribulation would be to come. On the Second Reading of the Bill, I used language which was perfectly true, and what I 1001 said was that the Bill is a scientific Bill, dealing with details most carefully and elaborately prepared. It is, as I am told, a Bill of excellent drafting, and embraces a scheme such as the Government might well bring forward. I have done my best to familiarise myself with all the points raised in the Bill, and I have come to the conclusion that it is not only a thoroughly good Bill in its general principles—to which the whole House has assented—but also in regard to its details. I attended the Standing Committee on two days, and I say deliberately that the picture drawn of the proceedings of that Committee by the hon. Member who moved the Amendment to recommit the Bill, and still more that drawn by the hon. Member for Derry, was a downright caricature. The hon. Member for Mid Armagh has quoted very fairly words which I used when the Motion was made to commit the Bill to the Standing Committee, and in the course of which I said that, if there was any abuse of the powers of the majority—if there was any overriding of the minority by the majority—the House would have the remedy in its own hands; the story could be told to the House, and the House could recommit the Bill. But the hon. Member who just now interrupted the hon. Member for South Tyrone said, he did not say that there had been any abuse of the powers of the majority, but that the minority offered reasons to the majority which they would not accept. But the hon. Member said more than that, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh has shown in his pointed speech, drawing attention to the curious use of language on the part of hon. Gentlemen who support the Amendment. The hon. Member for Derry said that the discussion was not discursive enough, and then that it was not thorough. Then, again, he said—showing the strange synonyms which prevailed in his mind—that the Bill was not considered, and that the Amendments were not accepted. So that, because the discussion was not discursive, because it was not thorough, and because the Amendments were not accepted——
MR. J. MORLEY
Well, the slip looked at the moment to be rather an 1002 alarming one. The hon. Member admits, however, that every point which he laboured most was threshed out in the Committee. Then he and his friends talk about their Amendments having been voted down; but, of course, all Amendments are voted down by majorities if those majorities think they ought not to be voted up. But I would point out that one Conservative and one Unionist voted in the so-called "brute" majority on the Second Amendment. In another Division, no fewer than five Conservatives voted in the majority, and in yet another division four or five Conservatives voted in the majority.
MR. J. MORLEY
Oh, but Conservative Gentlemen do not always vote against Parnellite Amendments. All this talk about a tyrannical majority is simply preposterous. The hon. Member for Mid Armagh has said that the Liberals were whipped up by our masters, of whom we are the slaves, and that we sat perfectly silent and took no part in the discussion. But there were a great many Conservative gentlemen there too, but I do not find that a single Conservative Member outside the four who took charge of the proceedings on the Bill had a single observation to make. The truth is that the Committee acted in a very sensible way. They said:—Here is an Irish question; the Government of the day say that this Bill has been well drafted, and is a good Bill; all parts of the House have agreed that the object of the Bill is most desirable.And, therefore, English and Scotch Members did what I consider to be an extremely sensible thing. They said:—We have had the opportunity of hearing all the ability of three Irish Queen's Counsel and the Member for Mid Antrim on the one side, and the hon. and learned Member for Louth and two or three of his colleagues, especially the hon. Member for Cork, who is a proficient expert on the whole of this subject, on the other side; we have heard the arguments on both sides placed in the best possible light.And they voted accordingly. I must say that I think that was a very satisfactory proceeding. As to my not having taken a part in the proceedings before the Committee, a doctrine—surely a very high doctrine—has been laid down, which I do not believe the Leader of the Opposition 1003 would support—namely, that the Chief Secretary is bound to take an active part and to give a detailed opinion on every Irish Bill which comes before the House of Commons. It is my misfortune not to have an Irish Law Officer by my side, but the hon. Gentleman will agree that with regard to Bills of this kind, where the general principles are accepted by the Irish Government and by the House, the details are left to be dealt with by lawyers; and I am sure that I should have no difficulty in finding occasions when Chief Secretaries have not felt it their duty to attend to every detail, or even to attend the Committee at all. I cannot have an Irish Solicitor General, and therefore I accepted the services of the Solicitor General for England. I was only too glad to avail myself of the services of my hon. and learned Friend. It is said that my hon. and learned Friend only corroborated the arguments of the hon. and learned Member for Louth. But that is not so. The hon. and learned Gentleman gave an opinion of his own, and what reception did he meet with? Hon. Gentlemen opposite immediately cried out that he was an Englishman, that he knew nothing at all of the subject, and had better leave the matter alone.
MR. J. MORLEY
I do not say that the proceedings of the Committee were reported as are the proceedings of this House, but I should have thought the incident was one which was known to every part of the House. I rather think it was the hon. Member for Antrim himself who made the observation. I do not say it was made in a speech, but there were, at any rate, ejaculations made which did not encourage my hon. and learned Friend to proceed further with his observations.
§ MR. MACARTNEY
said, he deliberately invited the hon. and learned Gentleman to assist the Committee with his professional knowledge.
MR. J. MORLEY
And having got it said that the hon. and learned Gentleman gave no assistance whatever. I do not think, however, it can be denied that all the points that have been raised this afternoon were fully considered in Committee, and, as the hon. Member for 1004 Edinburgh has said, there has been no evidence produced to-day to show that the points raised were not considered. A point has been raised by the mover of the Amendment about the small townships, and he gave figures showing the population and revenue of Dungannon, Lisburn, and other small towns. I would point out to the hon. Member the fact that there is in England a municipal borough with a population of under 1,000, and no fewer than 13 municipal boroughs with a population under 2,000. Therefore, the whole point of the argument of the hon. Gentleman falls to the ground. There is one other point which illustrates the kind of discussion which has been going on this afternoon with the view of showing that this is not a Bill which assimilates the practice in Ireland to that in England. It was asserted that it was in the highest degree inconvenient that the date when the municipal burgess roll should come into operation was to be the 25th of November, which was also the day of the elections. But the date when the municipal burgess roll comes into operation in England is the 1st of November, and the date of the municipal elections in England is the 1st of November. Therefore that point also falls to the ground. Another point was as to municipal tenure, but my hon. Friend the Member for South Edinburgh gave a complete answer to that part of the case. The real point for the House to decide is whether they are convinced—whether any evidence has been brought forward to convince them—that the Standing Committee did in any way abuse the forms or powers placed in their hands on this occasion. What single element, I want to know, would a Committee of the Whole House contribute to the discussion of this Bill which was not represented on that Committee? The Committee, as is always the case, was carefully constituted with special reference to the Bill before them; Irish Members were added, and every pain was taken to make that Committee representative of the state of opinion in this House. I want to know what new element could be introduced if you sent the Bill once more before a Committee. No, Sir, we know quite well why this Amendment is moved. It is moved, not because anything which occurred in the Grand Committee justifies 1005 any objection to the Bill or to one or two special clauses in the Bill. It means that Gentlemen who support this Amendment desire the destruction of the Bill. (Cheers and cries of "No?") Of course it did mean that. I ask whether anything is to be gained by hon. Gentlemen going to the country, with the position affirmed by the House, that, in regard to a measure before them redressing what was an admitted shameful abuse, they refused to take the only step to prevent the Bill becoming law, and to take the only means of redressing that scandalous abuse. I submit that no case has been made out in support of the charges of laches or abuse which have been put forward in regard to the conduct of this Grand Committee. I submit that the Bill was adequately and thoroughly discussed in that Committee. It has been examined by those in whom I have the fullest confidence, and they assure me that it is a Bill which will work. Under these circumstances I hope that the Amendment will be rejected by such a majority as will show that the House is in earnest in its desire to redress abuses.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
I think it is natural, but certainly unfortunate, that the Chief Secretary should have confined his remarks to the proceedings in the Committee, and the expression of his general desire that a Bill dealing with the Irish municipal system should pass as soon as possible. But there is a question behind this Amendment far more general in scope and far more important in its character than any of the controversies which have been raised in connection with the conduct of business in the Grand Committee, whose proceedings have been under review this afternoon. Let the House consider exactly what we are asked to do. This Bill, which the hon. and learned Member for Louth told us was an extremely complicated measure, and which everybody will agree contains several parts of a highly controversial character, was sent to a Grand Committee. I made a protest at the time against that proceeding, but I will not refer any more to that. This long and complicated measure has been passed without the alteration of a fullstop or of a comma. No verbal or drafting 1006 Amendment—no Amendment of substance—has been admitted by the majority composing that Committee. How far that was a justifiable proceeding I shall have a word to say in a moment. But even if the majority of the Committee were animated with the sole desire of bringing it out as perfect a measure as possible, I say that this House ought not to tolerate any Bill of this nature passing into law without having some opportunity of dealing with its details upon the Report Stage. A new wheel in our Parliamentary machinery was provided by the institution of Grand Committees. That system is one from which we all hope much, and it is a system which is capable of carrying out its work, if only the majority for the time being use it in the spirit in which the institution was originally set up by the late Prime Minister, who, in proposing it, stated that he did not intend to give any excessive application to the principle of sub-division, but proposed to confine it to an endeavour to dispose of the Committee Stage in the House on certain Bills on certain subjects, and to leave to the House and to require the House to exercise its full powers in dealing with those Bills upon Report, after they had passed through the Grand Committee. There can be no doubt whatever that when the Committee Stage in the full House was got rid of by the adoption of the system of Grand Committees this was done on the distinct understanding that the only other stage should be left to the whole House. If you now permit proceedings like the present to take place in the Grand Committee you will be leaving to the Grand Committee itself to determine whether the House as a whole shall discuss the details of a measure at all. I am quite aware that when a Bill gets through a Committee of the Whole House without amendment there is no Report Stage. The House, as a whole, is responsible then for not allowing its Members to discuss the details upon Report. But to leave it to the Grand Committee to decide whether the whole House shall or shall not discuss at all the details of a measure is, in my opinion, a great abuse of the machinery of the Grand Committee system, and to make that 1007 machinery a device by which the whole details of a Bill can be withdrawn from all discussion in the House itself. Those being the general principles which, in my judgment, ought to animate the House, I ask myself whether there is anything in the peculiar circumstances of this Bill which can justify a departure from those sound principles. We have heard a good deal about the mode of procedure adopted in this Grand Committee. Those who opposed the Bill in that Committee have told us that none of their amendments were considered; those who belong to the majority of that Committee—the hon. Member for South Edinburgh and the Chief Secretary for Ireland—have given us their account, and have told us that there never was a Bill more fully, more fairly, more adequately, or more impartially discussed. I was not a member of that Committee——
§ MR. BALFOUR
If I was I never attended, and therefore I am not qualified to speak of what went on within its walls. But, after all, I am appealing to Gentlemen who have some knowledge of Parliamentary practice and procedure, and I ask them whether in their whole experience of Parliamentary life they have ever known a long, complicated, and controversial measure so perfect in all its details, so admirably drafted, covering so completely the ground intended to be dealt with that no amendment, even of an adverb, was inserted in Committee? [An HON. MEMBER: "Mr. Gerald Balfour's Rating of Machinery Bill."] The Rating of Machinery Bill is another instance, though not nearly so flagrant an instance. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Louth, with a modesty that was astonishing, told us that this Bill was far less important than the Rating of Machinery Bill. I should like to ask, then, what was the meaning or the value of the electioneering appeal which the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary made in his speech just now? No, Sir. The Rating of Machinery Bill may be, and is, an important and interesting Measure, but to compare it with a Bill which revolutionises the whole municipal system of Ireland is really to ask us to accept a proposition which even the most prejudiced among us will, I 1008 think, reject without discussion. The mere fact that this Bill has got through without Amendment is a conclusive proof, without going into details, that the majority of the Committee were animated by a desire to see that it did get through without Amendment, and that the House should not be allowed to discuss it afterwards. I do not believe that the members of the majority will deny it. [Mr. PAUL: "I deny it."] It never traversed the innocent mind of the hon. Member for South Edinburgh that, if he voted against every Amendment, this Bill would not have to pass through the ordeal of Report! It never occurred to him—such was his innocent ignorance of the procedure of this House—and he voted on the merits—[Mr. PAUL: "The demerits"]—the demerits of the Amendments alone, without the least arrière-pensée with regard to the future progress of the Bill. I have heard of verbal inspiration in another connection, but I have never heard it asserted that any draughtsman, even the hon. and learned Member for Louth, had verbal inspiration in the drafting of a measure of local government. In order to bring this matter to the test, in order to show the House what dangers they run by permitting a procedure of this kind to pass unchallenged, I will just call attention to one or two points which have been raised in this Debate, in which it has been shown conclusively that the Bill is extremely imperfect. Here let me say at once that I know it was not in the power of the Committee to deal with some of these points. It was out of order. It required a previous Instruction to deal with them. What does that prove? It proves that our whole method of referring Bills to a Grand Committee must be revised, because, as we now carry out the process of referring to the Grand Committee, there is no opportunity of moving an Instruction. By the rules of this House there must be notice of an Instruction, but by the practice notice is rendered impossible, because directly a Bill passes its Second Reading, the Gentleman in charge gets up and moves that it be referred to the Grand Committee, and there is no opportunity of moving an Instruction which would enable the Grand Committee to carry out properly the work intrusted to them. Let me just give an illustration of the 1009 difficulties that have arisen. I take the case of the towns of which Dungannon is an example. As I understand, Dungannon, by the existing Irish Act, is under a peculiar system of rating and representation. The representation is extremely restricted, but, on the other hand, there can be no rating of premises under £5. The result is, that the occupiers of premises under £5 are, neither directly nor indirectly, neither as compounding householders nor as direct ratepayers, responsible for subscribing to any of the cost of their local institutions. I am entirely in favour of giving to the inhabitants of Dungannon full municipal privileges; but is it not manifest that when you are dealing with their Municipal Franchise you must also deal with the extraordinarily exceptional and abnormal condition of things under which there is no rating at all for the smaller kinds of property in the towns?
§ MR. BALFOUR
The existing system is as I have described, and I put it whether our whole system of representation and taxation is not absolutely violated by a Bill which leaves these anomalies in taxation but alters the anomalies in representation. That is an illustration of the procedure which had governed the framers of the Bill throughout. The hon. and learned Member for Louth boasted that for every provision in his Bill he could find a precedent, either in Ireland, or in England and Scotland. He founds upon that condition of things the inference that this Bill is according to precedent, and does not require special consideration by the House. Nothing in the world is easier than to make a patchwork Bill, taking a clause from this antiquated Act and another from that recent Act, a clause from this Act applying to Ireland and another from that Act applying to England, and making the whole so inconsistent with any of the principles that this House has ever sanctioned, that in truth the Bill is not carrying out the accepted methods of legislation, and may create the greatest conceivable anomalies. I have given Dungannon as an example. It would never have been tolerated in an English or Scotch Bill that you should leave this extraordinary condition 1010 of local taxation while you adopted wholesale a system of representation framed to meet a very different state of affairs. That is the first of the points that ought to have been dealt with by the Bill or in the Committee. I will give another. Allusion has been made to the protection of existing officers. Now, there was a protection given to existing officers by the English Act; but you are now about to allow a Bill to pass through without those precautions which we have been careful to insert in the English Act. And that does not show the full strength of our case, because if existing officers require protection in England, then a thousandfold do they require protection in Ireland; and I will prove that out of the mouth of the hon. and learned Gentleman himself. Was not his complaint against Belfast and Derry that there was not a single Catholic official in the service of the corporation; that the whole machinery of municipal institutions was worked upon party and religious lines? It is most unfortunate that such a state of things should exist, but it does exist; and I do not think you can blame the new constituencies which you wish to call into existence if they were at once to proceed to reverse, and perhaps to reverse with violence, a condition of things so obviously inequitable. But the offenders in that case are not the officials, and they ought to have compensation. If they are competent for the work they perform it is monstrous to turn them out. [Mr. T. M. HEALY: "Who is going to do it?"] I am quite sure if the hon. and learned Gentleman had control of the matter in all these municipalities he would do full and generous justice to all these officials. But I think that even he, with all his power, is hardly in a position to answer for what the new constituencies he desires to call into existence may do in cases in which we all admit that injustice has been done, or, at all events, that one party is too exclusively represented among the officials of the corporation. Will hon. Gentlemen deny that that is a provision that ought to be introduced, and that it is a gross unfairness and injustice that it ought not to be introduced? It has not been introduced, and by the vote you are going to give 1011 this afternoon you are making it impossible for us to introduce it. I am not sure that the House of Lords would be able to introduce it. I an not at all certain that we should not regard it as a violation of our privileges, if the House of Lords were to deal in any way with the financial compensation out of the rates of the officers of these municipalities. And I am quite certain that the other case to which I referred just now—I mean the abnormal position of the system of rating in Dungannon—is not one which we would permit the House of Lords at all to touch; so that we are in this ludicrous position: We find the Bill with these great financial injustices and anomalies; we send it to the House of Lords in the hope that they will put the Bill in order, and then we find that our own privileges prevent the Lords from carrying out the work for which we really are responsible. There is a third point, which every impartial auditor of this Debate must admit is one which should have been introduced into the Bill; I mean the machinery for dealing with the voting lists in small boroughs. The Chief Secretary appeared to suppose that he had met this case by saying that in England there were some municipal boroughs as small as the towns to which the hon. Member for Armagh referred. Yes, there are one or two, not very many, as small as any in Ireland: but we have provided them with the most elaborate machinery for dealing with the list of voters. What you are doing in Ireland, however, is this: You are continuing a system which everybody admits, which Irish Nationalists have asserted over and over again is inadequate, even to the small, the narrow, and the restricted Franchise which now exists. That machinery, inadequate for present purposes, you intend to overload by throwing upon it the duties which it is absolutely impossible that it could adequately perform. I would ask those who think that this Bill has been inspired, from the first word to the last, what answer have they got to make to those observa-about the machinery? The English precedent is all against them. We have ever been careful in England to provide machinery, but here you are going to pass through this House, without any 1012 machinery at all, a system which revolutionises all these little municipalities, trusting, I suppose, that in another place wisdom will be found for dealing with a situation which you have deliberately neglected. One other point I will refer to—namely, the period of qualification. Is it not a violation of all our best Parliamentary traditions that we should admit without discussion, in the case of a Reform Bill for Ireland, a period of qualification which we do not admit in England? It is not denied that that is what is being done. I do not say that the new voter in Ireland may not be so superior a person, and that municipal institutions in Ireland may not be of such a character that safeguards which we have thought necessary in the case of England may be unnecessary in Ireland. But whether this be so or not, ought not this House to discuss the subject? Ought we to effect so immense a change, a change which has no parallel in English or Scotch legislation, without taking a single division upon Amendments in this House, and without devoting a single hour to the consideration of the Bill on the Report stage? This appears to me to be an outrage upon our whole system of legislation, and I venture to implore Gentlemen opposite not to allow their desire to see an Irish Municipal Franchise Bill pass to blind them to the possible application of a precedent of this kind to future Bills. I object to this procedure as a Member of the House of Commons, and I do object to it still more when I reflect upon the duties which it will throw upon the House of Lords. I have never undervalued the position of the House of Lords in respect of legislative work; but to ask that House to do all the detailed work which we ought to do and do not do, to throw upon them the responsibility of making the unworkable workable, to ask them to provide the machinery which we have been too idle to provide, to ask them to remedy injustice to which we have deliberately shut our eyes, would be to invest the House of Lords with an importance of which I, as a Member of the House of Commons, should be extremely jealous. I am looking forward with some interest to the Resolution on the subject of the House of Lords which we were again promised yesterday by the 1013 Chancellor of the Exchequer. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will remember, when framing this wonderful Resolution, that by the procedure of his Government and their supporters the responsibilities thrown upon the House of Lords are being increased daily. The President of the Board of Trade declared the other day in the country that it was becoming more and more obvious how dreadfully obstructive that branch of the Legislature is. The right hon. Gentleman forgot to add that we are throwing upon them every day duties connected with the details of legislation which formerly we jealously discharged ourselves. He forgot to say that we send up to the House of Lords, or mean to send up, Bills which we know to be imperfect, unjust, or unworkable, in the hope that in that other place wisdom and industry, in which we are deficient, will be found, and in the hope that they may send our measures back so altered as to prevent their being too great a disgrace to the Statute Book. I entreat hon. Members to exclude from their minds any prejudice derived from the fact that the Bill is one which in its main lines they approve. I ask them to consider what a precedent will be established if the Bill is read a third time as it stands, and I also ask them to consider what dishonour they will cast upon their own as compared with the other branch of the Legislature. If they will consider these things, I think they will feel that the course which the Government propose to take in voting for the Third Reading of the Bill before we have had any chance of remedying the defects of the Measure is a course which we cannot support consistently with the credit and honour of this House.
§ MR. A. E. GATHORNE-HARDY (Sussex, East Grinstead)
wished to say a few words, because he was one of those unofficial and un-Irish Members of the country who had been alluded to by the Chief Secretary as having contributed no speeches to the Debates in that Committee. The reason why he and other Conservative Members were silent was because the points raised by the Bill were highly technical. But their silence 1014 in the Committee need not debar them from expressing the opinion that this was not a Measure which could have passed through without amendment unless there had been on the part of the majority a deliberate intention to withdraw the details from the consideration of the House. On this occasion two institutions were on their trial. One was the institution of Grand Committees, and the other was the House of Commons itself. When these Grand Committees were formed originally it was not intended that by their agency Bills should be withdrawn absolutely from the cognisance of the House. He believed that when the right hon. Member for Midlothian made the statements which had been quoted that afternoon, he meant in good faith that no Bill by reason of its reference to a Grand Committee was to be withdrawn altogether from the cognisance of the House for the purposes of amendment and alteration. He believed if a Division could be taken on the merits of this question, those only who had heard the Debate taking part in that Division, that the decision would be in favour of the Amendment. He did not believe that there was any Member on the Opposition side of the House, who really thought that this Measure, dealing with the vast and complicated question of local government, was so perfect that it could not have been improved by amendment and alteration. He thought, also, that hon. Members must be aware of the fact that if there had not been a deliberate intention to exclude the details of this Bill from consideration in that House, some Amendments would have been introduced in the Grand Committee. He held that it was of the utmost importance that tactics of that sort should be defeated. Grand Committees were fit bodies to deal with technical points of drafting, but it was never intended that they should withdraw from the cognisance of the House important and complicated measures.
§ *MR. W. KENNY (Dublin, St. Stephen's Green)
, as a Member of the Standing Committee, denied that the description of the proceedings of that Committee, given by the hon. and learned Member for Derry was a caricature, as the Chief Secretary for Ireland alleged. He had attended the 1015 sittings of the Committee from the beginning to the end, and he declared that the action of the hon. and learned Member in charge of the Bill and his supporters clearly showed to those who proposed Amendments that the deliberate intention was that the Bill should pass through the Committee without amendment of any kind, in order that the stage of Report in that House might be avoided. Speaking on the Second Reading, the Chief Secretary expressly stated that if there should be any abuse of the powers of the Grand Committee or any tyrannical user of those powers, a Motion could be made to re-commit the Bill to the House. That was the proposal which was now made. It had been said that the Amendments proposed in Committee were bad and vicious Amendments, but there was no ground for that statement. The Amendments moved in the first six clauses of the Bill by the hon. Members for Derry, Mid Armagh, and South Antrim and by himself, were designed to bring the measure into line with the English Municipal Franchise Act. And when their Amendments were negatived or defeated they did not repeat their arguments on those particular clauses of the Bill. The Chief Secretary had said that the Bill in all its details was a well-drafted Bill. In his opinion the Bill was another instance of the extraordinary manner in which Irish Bills were drafted which the House had witnessed within the past fortnight. On a previous Wednesday the House had discussed a Bill to establish Irish County Councils. That Bill proposed that the House should abdicate its functions of legislating for Ireland in respect of County Councils in favour of the Privy Council, a body which had been abused over and over again in Ireland by the Nationalists. To do the work which that Bill proposed that the Privy Council should do, the Privy Council would have to insert about 150 clauses into the Bill, and the Bill now before the House was to go up to the House of Lords for the purpose of inserting a number of Amendments to make it workable, particularly in reference to the 23rd Clause. The hon. Member for South Edinburgh had said that the Amendments moved in the 1016 Grand Committee were not reasonable Amendments. He would give the House one instance of the absolute confusion that must result if the Bill passed in its present form. The 14th Clause, for which there was no precedent, provided that the occupier of a House though not primarily responsible for the taxes, might pay so much of such taxes, as might be necessary to qualify him to be enrolled on the burgess roll. In Committee the hon. Member for Louth was asked what was the amount the occupier would have to pay; whether the whole of the rate, or part of the rate, or if part, what part? But no reply was given, so that the amount the occupier would have to pay in order to qualify himself for the burgess roll was left uncertain. A good deal had been said in the course of the Debate about the 23rd Clause. The argument used by the supporters of the Bill was that a large number of the towns to which the clause would apply were towns with a very small income, and that a detailed and complicated revision of the burgess list would throw an immense expense on the town authorities. But many of those 85 towns had very substantial incomes, and it would have been quite possible to draft a clause which would apply the machinery for the revision of the lists to such towns, and except from its operation the small towns with limited income. As the Bill stood, the town clerk in all those towns revised the lists without any assistance of any sort, and was the sole arbitrator of the names that were to go on the lists. Indeed, the hon. Member for West Kerry (Mr. Sexton), speaking in 1893, described the system as "fantastic and absurd." And yet the hon. Gentleman now proposed, with the aid of the Chief Secretary, to leave this fantastic and absurd thing in existence in those 85 towns. For those reasons he would support the Amendment.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided:—Ayes 239; Noes 177.—(Division List, No. 120.)
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read 3° and passed.