§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—(Sir Michael Hicks-Beach.)
§ MR. SYNAN
said, he had given Notice to move that the Bill be re-committed, on the ground that an Amendment, of which he had given Notice, had not been considered. He referred to the omission of the 5th clause. He intended proposing its omission on the consideration of the Report, and was in his place until a late hour on Thursday, or rather an early hour on Friday morning. The discussion on the Public Worship Bill had, however, been extended until an advanced hour, and he left the hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Beresford Hope) speaking upon the subject with the appearance of 1606 going on for some time. That was after 2 o'clock; but at 3, it appeared, the debate had been adjourned, and the Orders of the Day proceeded with; but no one could have dreamt that the Order standing 16th on the list would be taken, and two or three pages of Amendments added to, and inserted in the Bill. With but' a few Irish Members present—in fact, only four, the right hon. Gentleman had rushed forward, and pushed the Bill through. ["Oh, oh!"] He said yes; there were only four Irish Liberal Members present. He had looked at the division lists, and found there were only four Irish Members in the division in favour of postponement. He complained most seriously of this method of treating Irish business. It was their continual lot: whilst the English Bill had received days of consideration, they were shut up to the fag ends of nights. He could not think it was the wish of the Chief Secretary for Ireland to treat Members for Ireland in such a way; but it proved the necessity of finding some way of relieving the House of such necessities. He was not going at that hour to press his Amendment to a division; but he most earnestly hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would secure the removal of the clause to which he had referred. It was described as "Occasional licences—extension of time for closing." He could not imagine what the object of such a clause was. It gave power to magistrates to grant occasional licences for fairs and races, which were formerly not to be open later than an hour after sunset, until 10 o'clock. That was a most extraordinary extension; and where a magistrate granted such a permission in the winter to that late hour, he (Mr. Synan), knowing from observation what would be the result, could not speak for the order of some districts of Ireland. It was simply an uncalled-for method of exciting to disorder, and when factions existed the duties of the police would be greatly increased, or rather rendered nugatory. But that effect would be the smallest result. He believed the clause, as it stood, might easily end in homicide. He therefore repeated that he hoped that the clause would either be omitted or modified in "another place."
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
said, he could certainly assure the hon. Member that he had no desire to have 1607 Irish Bills taken at inconvenient times for the Members who were interested in them. He could only make the best possible use of the time at his disposal, and he had to express his thanks to hon. Members from Ireland for aiding him to the extent they did under the circumstances. He frequently felt very grateful to them for their co-operation, as on that occasion, in the Public Health Bill, which they had just passed through Committee. In regard to this measure, however, he could not admit that ample time had not been devoted to it. It had been four times before Committee, and, on one occasion, a whole day had been occupied in the consideration of it. The 5th clause had been discussed among the rest, and a division taken upon it, when the feeling of the House proved to be so strongly in favour of its retention that he hoped the hon. Member would not now press his Amendment.
§ MR. R. SMYTH
I concur in much that has been said by my hon. Friend (Mr. Synan), and do not think that the Chief Secretary for Ireland has successfully vindicated the course which has been taken in bringing forward this Bill from night to night, at an hour when Irish Members must of necessity have relaxed their vigilance. The right hon. Gentleman has betrayed a misapprehension as to the present state of the law with respect to occasional licences. The Act of 1872 does not give magistrates unlimited discretion as to hours in the case of fairs and race-courses, but does so in the case of balls and other in-door gatherings. I would remind the House that this Licensing Bill was introduced at 1 o'clock in the morning on the 16th of May, without one word of explanation. The second reading was moved at half-past 1 o'clock in the morning, without a single word from the right hon. Baronet to show with what motives it originated, what was its principle, what were its objects, or what great reasons of State policy had impelled the Ministry to undertake such a measure. This is one of the measures which were honoured with a reference in the Speech from the Throne. I do not for a moment suppose that a Licensing Bill for Ireland was deemed of less consequence than one for England, and therefore I claim, without fear of contradiction, that this was regarded as one of the great measures which were to make this Session memor- 1608 able in legislation. And yet, to this hour, there has not been one sentence vouchsafed by the Government in explanation or defence of it—a phenomenon which, I venture to think, is unprecedented in the annals of the House. A measure is mentioned in Her Majesty's gracious Speech, and then it is run through the House of Commons in absolute silence, so far as the Administration is concerned. Now, I ask, even at this late stage, who demanded this Bill? Under what pressure was it brought forward? No Irish Member in this House, I believe, knows how or when it originated, or what grievances it was intended to meet; or, if he does, he knows a great deal more than I do, or any Irish Member to whom I have spoken on the subject. In particular, I want to know who asked the Government to extend the hours of drinking on race-courses from an hour after sunset till 10 o'clock at night? Representations must have come from some quarter, and I do hope these pleadings were not the mere private prayer of interested publicans. Did the magistrates of Ireland send any official notification to the Government that it was a bad thing to shut up drinking booths so early as an hour after sunset, and that it would be a great stroke of reform to keep poor people drinking in tents on the open plains till 10 o'clock at night? I say, that this provision of the Bill may cover certain localities with disgrace, and may turn out to be the source of serious and abounding evils. At any rate, we have a right to know who wanted the change, and what objects the Ministry had in view in proposing such a disastrous clause. I regret that my hon. Friend the Member for County Limerick had not an opportunity of moving the rejection of the clause in Committee. No doubt, we will be told that the magistrates are not bound to give the whole statutable extension to these race-course licences. That is true, but you are suggesting that they should. I am not a little surprised to find such faith in magisterial discretion developed on the Treasury Bench. We know how the Home Secretary refused to admit that English magistrates were discreet enough to be entrusted with the control of a single half-hour in the towns and villages of England; but, all of a sudden, it is discovered that Irish magistrates may safety be left with the control 1609 of five hours' discreet drinking. I shall be the last to deny the superior wisdom and prudence of Irish magistrates. I admit that they are nearly as perfect as men can become; but, after all, they might make a mistake, and I would rather have a discreet Act of Parliament than a discreet magistrate. I have further to say that the doctrine of Irish discretion, which is so paramount in this Bill, may possibly lead to other changes. If Irish magistrates are so well able to judge of local wants, perhaps the like attribute will soon be conceded to Irish ratepayers, and we need not wonder if the present Government should introduce a Permissive Bill for Ireland, founded on the great doctrine of local Irish discretion. There is, however, one redeeming feature in the Bill. I am bound to mention it, because I do not desire to present a one-sided view of the case. The restriction of licences to annual issue is, in my opinion, a most advantageous provision, and for the sake of this alone I should like the Bill to become law. But I most earnestly desire that it should be purged of the race-course taint, and perhaps in its transit through other regions it may meet with this happy purgation. I know the difficulties with which the right hon. Baronet has to contend. He is not a Cabinet Minister, and has to be content with these small hours of the morning for the carriage of Irish Bills. The hours that are worth nothing to Englishmen are given to Irishmen, and to the Chief Secretary for Ireland. But I must really express the hope that this will be the last of these somnambulist Irish Bills during the present Parliament. I do not oppose the third reading; but I record my humble protest against certain parts of the measure, and against the manner in which the right hon. Baronet, without any choice or fault of his own, has carried it through the House.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed.