HC Deb 31 March 1870 vol 200 cc992-9

said, he would beg to ask the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether the Government will be able, on an early day, to bring in their Bill for taking the votes at Parliamentary Elections by Ballot, and for providing the other securities for the purity and freedom of Elections recommended in the Report of the Committee on Municipal and Parliamentary Elections?


With the permission of the House, as I think it will be for the convenience of the House, I will take advantage of the Question of my hon. Friend to state what I can with respect to the condition of Public Business, and the prospects before us of carrying forward the measures which were introduced to the notice of Parliament in the Queen's Speech. On the part of the Government I may say we were conscious, when so many subjects were taken notice of, that the number was unusual, and that it might be very difficult to deal with all of them. We knew, on the other hand, that the public mind was in a very lively state of expectation as regards legislation; and we were disposed, therefore, to take a sanguine view of what might be done; and we engaged to undertake everything we thought there was a fair hope of being able to carry through Parliament. Our computations, which we made as carefully as we could, with regard to the progress of business, have been most seriously interfered with by the Irish Crime Bill. For though we have not the slightest title or disposition to complain of the time occupied in discussing the Bill, yet still the sudden intervention—for which no preparation could be made—of a measure which occupies six days of the time of the House, is a very serious event with regard to causing a pressure, and what may be called a congestion of business. The most important business of the Session, for which the Government is practically responsible, I should divide into three groups. In the first group there are four Bills which we think it right to place before the other Bills mentioned in the Queen's Speech, and the first of these is the Irish Land Bill. Considering the vast importance of that measure, we think it our duty to use every effort in our power, and to make every demand on the patience and indulgence of the House that circumstances will permit, for the sake of pressing forward that measure not only with a view to getting it through this House, but with a view to that which we do not always, perhaps, quite sufficiently consider—namely, the propriety, and even the necessity, of sending our important measures in such a succession to the House of Lords, and beginning to send them there at such a period of the year, that the House of Lords may have a fair advantage in discharging its legislative functions. Next to the Irish Land Bill comes the English Education Bill. With respect to that Bill also, we are most anxious that a Bill of that magnitude, and upon which the attention of the country is so concentrated, should run no risk whatever of being lost either in this House or the other House from want of time. We have, therefore, shown to the House there is a very special case at this moment for urging forward some special measures with a view to expediting business at this period of the Session. Next to the English Education Bill, we are desirous of introducing and carrying a measure for the purpose of closing a very long-contested subject—namely, the abolition of University Tests. In the view of the Government that stands next in importance to the English Education Bill; and next to that—we have exercised our best judgment in the order I have named—we are very desirous—and here I answer the Question of my hon. Friend —to be able to introduce during the present Session, and to pass during this Session, if we can, a measure founded on the Report of the Committee on Parliamentary and Municipal Elections. It is only fair to my hon. Friend that I should give these details; this is the best method I can adopt of enabling him to judge of the likelihood, which I hope is great, that we may be able to deal also with that subject. These are very important measures, and two of them, at least, are very large and ample measures. Besides, these there are other measures which, although of the first necessity, are not of the first magnitude. One of them is the Naturalization Bill. This is a matter of the first necessity, though I do not think it likely to take much time, and I hope the House will dispose of it with rapidity. It has passed the other House, and it is necessary this House should dispose of it in order to enable the Government to complete with foreign Powers arrangements it is desirous of making under the provisions of the Bill. There are several other measures it will be necessary to deal with in the Session, and one of them is the Irish Matrimonial Jurisdiction Bill. ["Oh, oh"] I suppose hon. Members whose palates have been stimulated by such diet as I have been offering do not find the same stimulus with the Irish Matrimonial Jurisdiction Bill; still I presume it is desirable that people should be married in Ireland, and that the practice of marriage should not be absolutely at a stand-still in consequence of the disestablishment of the Irish Church. The necessity for this measure arises out of the Irish Church Act of last year, and it is absolutely our duty to take it up and carry it forward. With regard to other measures mentioned in the Speech from the Throne, all I can say is that if circumstances are favourable we shall endeavour to redeem all our engagements; but I postpone these measures to the four measures I have mentioned in the first group, and to the second group which I have also mentioned as absolutely necessary. In order to relieve us from the position in which we have been placed by the necessity of dealing with the Irish Crime Bill, and in order to enable us to pay due respect to the House of Lords by sending them the Irish Land Bill at a proper period of the Session, I hope the House will be disposed to assist us a little before the Easter Recess. I will make further explanations afterwards; but what I will ask is that from the present up to the Easter Recess there shall be Morning Sittings on Tuesday and Friday. I assure the House that this proposal grows out of the unforeseen necessity brought upon us by the Irish Crime Bill, and it is not in the least degree intended thereby to commit the House to the practice of Morning Sittings after the Easter Recess. After the Easter Recess I think, we shall be in a condition in all probability to revert to the ordinary Sittings, and in all likelihood to postpone Morning Sittings until the usual period of the year. If those Morning Sittings for which I am disposed to ask the House at present, on the part of the Government, should be conceded, and if it should happen that there is any important Motion, the discussion of which would be prevented by granting them, then I admit we should be under the obligation after Easter to find room for the discussion of such a Motion. There is an alternative to Morning Sittings, and I am almost afraid to mention it, because it would not be agreeable to the Members of the Government individually nor to the Members of the House; still it is one which public duty would not permit us to put out of view, considering the extreme gravity of the circumstances with which we have to deal, and that alternative is the curtailment of the Easter Recess. ["Oh, oh!"] I heartily wish it were in my power, instead of dealing with these unpalatable proposals, to manufacture a little time; but no patent has yet been taken out for any process by which that object can be effected. The shortening of the Easter Recess is the only other alternative; but I do not know it need be curtailed more than has been already stated, if the House is kindly disposed to accede to the proposal I make. The great object we have in view is, first, to get ample time for discussing the very important provisions of the Irish Land Bill; and, secondly, if possible, to come to a conclusion before Easter, for it would be a great advantage to Irish tenants to be able to consider the provisions of the Bill during the Recess. I know it may not be possible to get through the Bill; but in case we find it impossible to do so before Easter there is a measure we can adopt. The Bill relates partly to the occupation and partly to the ownership of land, and these two subjects are separable the one from the other. If, therefore, we are able, as I trust confidently we shall be, to get through the clauses relating to the occupation of land before Easter, I propose that we should instruct the Committee to reconstruct the measure and divide it into two Bills, that we may send forward that which relates to the occupation, and that it may be considered in Ireland; and then, after Easter, we may consider the less onerous part of the Bill relating to the ownership of land. Therefore, it will be my duty to-night, after the Committee upon the Irish Land Bill, to make a Motion for the purpose of taking the opinion of the House, which I hope will be favourable, upon the proposal to hold a Morning Sitting to-morrow. There is another reason why this Morning Sitting is of importance, and that is that the Peace Preservation Bill has come back from the House of Lords with certain Amendments, which I understand are verbal, with one exception, which may be considered an Amendment in substance. We could not propose it to the House without giving hon. Members, and particularly those from Ireland, an opportunity of considering it; and I should wish, therefore, to propose that the Lords' Amendments to the Peace Preservation (Ireland) Bill should be considered to-morrow, at Two o'clock, as the first Order of the Day.


I am sorry at any time to make a Motion in this House without notice; but my doing so, in the present instance, is the consequence of the right hon. Gentleman deciding upon making so important a communication to the House, without its having an opportunity of expressing an opinion upon the subject. I must take this early opportunity of protesting against the proposition to have Morning Sittings on the Irish Land Bill, and there are several very strong reasons for objecting to that course. In the first place, I think we must consider a little the privileges of independent Members upon both sides of the House. They have liberally given way, in order to advance the Public Business of the Government during the present Session, and I can say sincerely I always feel it an almost paramount duty to support the Ministry whenever they make a proposition for the advancement of public business, even at a sacrifice of personal or party interest. But there is a line at which, I think, the privileges of Members of the House may be invaded with great disadvantages to the public service. During the present Session, which has already lasted nearly two months, hon. Members who are interested in many subjects of importance, have lost the legitimate opportunities they had acquired of bringing those subjects before the House; and I think we ought not to accede to any proposition of the kind just made, at this period of the year, without duly considering the effect our decision may have upon those legitimate privileges. The privileges of Members are the privileges of the country, There is another reason why we ought to hesitate in acceding to this proposal. I do not think there has been that fair opportunity of bringing forward questions in which the people of Great Britain are interested which they have a right to expect in a British House of Commons. No doubt the causes which occasion such a monopoly of discussion being afforded to Ireland may be indicated without difficulty, and ought to have due influence upon our dispassionate decision. But, at the same time, it cannot be doubted that both during the last Session of Parliament, and during the whole of the last two months, no questions in which England and Scotland are concerned have been allowed to be brought forward; and if the system of giving up Morning Sittings to Irish Bills, and before Easter, is adopted, I can at once mention several questions of the utmost importance, in which Great Britain is concerned, which cannot be brought forward, and of which notice has been given. I think there is a third, and a still stronger reason even than these, against the proposal of the Prime Minister—and that is, that really of all measures that I know this measure, connected with the tenure of land in Ireland, is one which cannot be hurried through the House. If this were a Coercion Bill I could easily understand that in the case of a Bill of that temporary, I trust, and certainly of that exigent nature, such an appeal as that addressed to the House by the Prime Minister would not be made in vain. But the Bill for the regulation of the tenure of land in Ireland is a Bill by no means of a temporary character. It is a Bill of an essentially permanent character, and in its permanent character it involves the discussion of very novel principles. Such a measure ought not to be hurried through the House. Now, what is another consequence of our having these Morning Sittings? We are at once deprived, generally speaking, of the advantage of the presence of all the gentlemen of the long robe, whose presence in the discussion of such a subject is extremely desirable. Then it was once the boast of the House of Commons that we possessed on our Benches some of the most enlightened members of the commercial body, whose opinion upon great subjects of policy was always looked up to, and always had considerable influence upon our debates and decisions. In these Morning Sittings I observe we are always deprived of the presence of all those Gentlemen, as it is impossible to expect that, with the urgent claims on their attention in the City of London, they could come down and assist at our morning deliberations. Our morning deliberations, therefore, are essentially of an unsatisfactory character, and less general interest is taken in the discussions than at other periods. Practically speaking, what do we gain by now adopting Morning Sittings? Is there any Gentleman on either side of the House so sanguine as to suppose that if we give up these Mornings before Easter for the purpose of discussing the Land Bill, we shall be able to settle all those important clauses with respect to the occupation of land in Ireland—the most important part of the Bill? Judge from the progress we have made. It has certainly not been a progress that has been retarded by any factious or party movement; it has been fair discussion; and yet, judging by the progress we have made, can we suppose that by breaking through our general rule with regard to business we can possibly succeed in carrying this Bill, so far as the occupation clauses are concerned, before Easter? I should be very sorry to see this Bill, and especially that portion of it, hurried through the House. It demands, it requires, and it must receive I the most ample and dispassionate discussion; and, therefore, I trust the right hon. Gentleman, who will have some hours to reflect upon it, will hesitate before he presses the House to make a change unprecedented so far as I can recollect—for I do not recollect that any Government has before asked for Morning Sittings before Easter—for a question not of exigency, but really respecting the principal measure of the Session, to which they can give up all the Government nights at discretion. I might have ended—and will end if the House demands it—by a Motion on this subject; but I would rather appeal to the kindness and indulgence of the House to pardon me for intruding upon their attention. But I felt it to be my duty, from the position I occupy in this House, to advert at this period to a subject of such importance to Members on both sides of the House.


explained that the form of proceeding he should adopt would be to move, at the close of the Committee on the Irish Land Bill to-night, that it be appointed as an Order of the Day for the Morning Sitting to-morrow, at Two o'clock.