HC Deb 12 April 1872 vol 210 cc1210-4

, in rising to call the attention of the House to the systematic exclusion of Irish Members from Select Committees; and to move— That, in the opinion of this House, there ought to be a fair representation of Irish Members on all Committees appointed for the consideration of Imperial questions, said, that in 1869 the number of English Members who served on Select Committees was 186, of Scotch Members 38, and of Irish Members 34. In 1870 the numbers were—English Members, 240; Scotch Members, 39; Irish Members, 36; and in 1871 they were—English, 246; Scotch, 37; and Irish, 36. The total for those three years was—English, 672; Scotch, 114; and Irish, 106. If the number had been in proportion to the number of Representatives for England, Scotland, and Ireland, the respective numbers would have been 664, 81, and 141; therefore, there was an excess of 8 English Members, an excess of 33 Scotch Members, and a deficiency of 35 Irish Members. Moreover, on several of the most important Select Committees on Imperial affairs which had sat during the last few years, there were none or very few Irish Members. In 1869 there were on the Abyssinian Committee 15 English Members, 3 Scotch, and 1 Irish; and on the Parliamentary and Municipal Elections Committee, 20 English Members, 1 Scotch, and 2 Irish. In 1870 there were on the Abyssinian Committee 15 English Members, 4 Scotch, and 1 Irish; on the Army Colonels' Committee, 13 English Members, 2 Scotch, and no Irish; on the Diplomatic Service Committee, 18 English Members, 3 Scotch, and no Irish; on the Factories and Workshops Committee, 12 English Members, 2 Scotch, and 1 Irish; on the Pilotage Committee, 18 English Members, 1 Scotch, and no Irish; on the Public Accounts Committee, 10 English Members, no Scotch, and 1 Irish; and on the Boiler Explosions Committee, 15 English Members, 2 Scotch, and 2 Irish. In 1871 there were on the Committee upon the Business of the House 21 English Members, 2 Scotch, and 1 Irish; on the Indian Finance Committee, 23 English Members, 3 Scotch, and 1 Irish; and on the Euphrates Valley Railway Committee, 12 English Members, 3 Scotch, and no Irish. Of those Committees to which he had referred, the case of the Pilotage Committee was one of the most striking he could instance in order to bring out the unfairness of the system. Dublin was the sixth port in the United Kingdom, and Belfast the eighth, while Cork ranked high. Two Irish Members ought, therefore, to have been placed on the Pilotage Committee, and this was suggested at the time, but not acceded to; and the consequence was, as he had before stated, that no Irish Member was allowed to serve upon that Committee, in which it must be allowed that Ireland had, at least, some interest. Another subject to which he wished to refer was the Committee on Public Accounts. In 1862 there were nine Members on the Committee on Public Accounts, none of whom were Irish. Objection was then taken by the hon. and gallant Member for Roscommon (Colonel French), and by other Irish Members, to the composition of this Committee; and at length, in 1864, the late Mr. Pollard-Urquhart was added; and for several years he acted as Chairman with great ability and assiduity; but why, when a vacancy occurred through the death of Mr. Urquhart, was not another Irish Member appointed in his place? If Irish Members did not take the degree of interest which they ought in Imperial questions, surely one of the best ways to induce them to do so would be to place them upon important Committees, for that would give them an acquaintance with and interest in them, thus promoting the consolidation of the Empire. He thought that there ought to be at least two Irish and two Scotch Members on every Committee appointed for the consideration of Imperial questions.


must say that he had some fellow-feeling with the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Pim), and would agree that a fair proportion of Irish Members should be placed on Committees, and he was aware that some of them felt the omission of that as a grievance. The Committee of Selection, however, of which he was Chairman, had found great difficulty in inducing hon. Gentlemen to serve on the Committees, especially Irish Members. Only once had it been his painful duty to ask the House to take into custody an hon. Member neglecting to perform his duty, and that Gentleman was an Irish Member. The Committee had that day, moreover, just excused two Irish Members who were detained by important local duties in Ireland, and whose only fault was that they had not intimated to the Committee the time when they would be at liberty to serve. Such duties made it more inconvenient for Irishmen than for Englishmen to attend Committees. If the House would place more Irish Members on Public Committees, a larger number of English Members would be available for the Private Business; and, therefore, his noble Friend opposite would be doing a service, if he took care that a fair proportion of Irish Members were placed on Committees.


said, he should be quite willing to agree to the converse of the hon. Member's proposition—namely, that the House should resolve that no Member be excluded from a Committee on account of his nationality. There was much force in the hon. Gentleman's observations; but it would be undesirable to adopt a rule that a fixed proportion of Committees should be Irish Members. Indeed, he did not think that it would be any improvement to say that a certain proportion of any Committee should belong to any nationality whatever. The persons who had most to do with the selection of Committees were generally those who moved for them, and those who conducted the Business on each side of the House; and, in almost every case, many Members were appointed on the ground of special knowledge of and interest in the subject, or because their Friends deemed them specially qualified. He believed they had invariably been chosen with reference to those qualities alone, and irrespective of nationality. The circumstances mentioned by his right hon. Friend opposite as to local duties had doubtless much to do with the comparatively small number of Irish Members on Committees. They attended the House less constantly than English and Scotch Members, 31 of the 64 Members sitting on the Ministerial benches being at present absent. In ap- pointing Select Committees, it was most important to choose Members who could give their continuous attendance, and it would be inconvenient if hon. Members were chosen who were frequently absent from the House. There were, indeed, some Committees upon which it was proper that an Irish Member should be placed almost as an invariable rule; for example, there was the Committee on Public Accounts. It happened that at present there was not an Irish Member upon that Committee; but it was intended to fill up the next vacancy by the appointment of an Irish Member. He could assure his hon. Friend that there was every disposition on the part of the Government, and he believed on the part of the House, to place Irish Members on such Committees as they could serve on with advantage; and he thought the House was indebted to his hon. Friend for the discussion he had raised on the subject.


said, that it seemed to be admitted on all sides that the Irish Members were not placed on the Select Committees of the House. The noble Lord the Chief Secretary for Ireland assigned two reasons for this phenomenon—the one, that the Irish Members did not attend with sufficient regularity to make their services available; the other, that those Members were selected to serve out of the whole body who were most conversant with subjects in hand and most likely to give good value to the country. He would suggest to the noble Lord that he mistook the effect for the cause, and that the Irish Members did not come as regularly to the House as others, because they had learned from experience that their presence was not desired. The other reason could only mean that the Members representing Ireland were not likely to render as great service to the country on Committees as the English and Scotch Members. ["No, no!"] Well, that was the fair inference to be drawn from the noble Lord's remark. However, the Secretary of the Treasury had assigned another ground for this exclusion. On the occasion of the appointment of the Committee on Public Accounts, when his hon. Friend the Member for Dublin (Mr. Pim) drew attention to its composition, the hon. Gentleman the Secretary of the Treasury said that so many Scotch Members were appointed and no Irish Mem- ber, because the Scotch Members asked to be appointed. He thought, however, that Irish Members did well to decline to ask as a favour for that which ought to be conceded to them as a right, and for the good of the whole community. But that was not all. In his opinion there was an attempt, systematically, to ignore Irish Members in other things. In his own hearing an Irish Member who spoke upon an English Salmon Fishery Bill was told—though not in those words, for they would have been unparliamentary—that his interference was an impertinence, and he himself was hardly allowed to utter three words without interruption on the subject of education, although representing a large constituency greatly interested in that question. On such occasions a disrespect and disregard were shown to Irish Members which was in keeping with their systematic exclusion from Select Committees. Perhaps, in thus acting the House was gradually preparing itself for that which would inevitably follow—the entire withdrawal of Irish Members from that House. ["Oh!"] The question of a Legislature in which Irish grievances could be ventilated was becoming more and more serious; and at the next General Election a large number of Members from the sister country would assuredly make their voices heard and their presence felt in Parliament on this question.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.

SUPPLY—considered in Committee.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.