HC Deb 25 July 1874 vol 221 cc713-21

in moving the Adjournment of the House said he did so, because it was evident from the attendance that day, that many hon. Members were mentally and physically wearied out, after a long and arduous week's labour. It was hardly fair to bring over-worked and exhausted Members who had been sitting nearly every day that week till 3 o'clock in the morning, to discuss the serious questions which were on the Paper. The House was exceedingly thin, and as a consequence, they could not be satisfactorily considered. No doubt some over-worked Members might be in corners of the House, and make their appearance in the Lobby when a division was called for, to vote upon a question they had not heard discussed; but he protested against proceeding with Bills when hon. Members were neither mentally nor physically in a position to discuss them in a proper manner.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Sullivan.)


said, the Government had no wish to deprive Irish Members of a full opportunity of discussing any measure in which they felt an interest, and in the present instance they would afford every facility for discussing the measure in Committee. He wished to point out that if there had been a large attendance of hon. Members on the Conservative side of the House, it would have been said that there was an attempt made to overbear the Irish Members. He thought that hon. Gentlemen opposite were very favourably situated for going on with the next Order.


said, that he, in common with many hon. Members had been taken by surprise, by that Saturday sitting. He therefore urged the postponement of the Bill till Monday, or some other convenient day, when those hon. Members who took an interest in it would have an opportunity of attending and getting a fair division, which clearly they could not get on a Saturday afternoon. The House could soon get through the rest of the Business on the Paper, and then adjourn.


said, there were only two or three Bills embraced by the measure with regard to which any question arose. The proper course would be to read the Bill a second time, and there would be opportunity in Committee for moving the omission of particular Bills to which objection was taken.


objected to Irish Business being discussed solely by Irish Members, and then to other hon. Members who had not heard a word of the debate coming in, and recording' their votes. He objected altogether to that morning's sitting, although perhaps he onght not to do so, as that was the first attempt he had seen in that House to separate Irish Business into a distinct department and to fix a specific day for its discussion. If the sitting had been one at which Irish Members exclusively should attend, he would not object to it. The Irish Bills which had been set down for the sitting were of the utmost importance. This Bill, for instance, involved the question, whether Ireland should be subject to constant coercion. It proposed to continue, for instance, Coercion Acts which would otherwise expire. Those Acts had been renewed every two or three years, some of them since 1848, others since 1839, and they were always brought forward at the end of the Session as a matter of course. Against that system of dealing with Ireland, ho, for one, was determined to set his face, and to offer every resistance that the Forms of the House allowed. There was no doubt that the House was sitting for Irish Bills, and without questioning what had been said by Mr. Speaker, he doubted whether the sitting was properly held, and thought, at any rate, that it would have been more within the spirit of the Standing Order that there should have been a distinct Resolution as to the adjournment to that day. If the mere fixing of a Bill for a Saturday was to be held as tantamount to a Resolution to adjourn to that day, great inconvenience might arise from it. They were told that the proper time to raise objections was in Committee. Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland give them an assurance that they should have an opportunity of discussing in Committee whether they should continue the Act which enabled any policeman to enter any house in Ireland at any hour of the night? The Bills which would have to be considered were of sufficient importance to be discussed in a full House, and he hoped, therefore, that the hon. Member would press his Motion to a division, for in that case he (Mr. Butt), would certainly vote for it.


said, the hon. and learned Member ought to remember that a great deal of time and attention had been given to the consideration of Irish questions that Session. There had been no indisposition to give Irish Members an opportunity of discussing questions of interest to Ireland, and he could assure hon. Gentlemen on behalf of the Government, that the same feeling which had actuated them throughout the Session still prevailed. What was it they were now asked to do? Here was a Bill which was to continue various expiring laws, and they were told that they had set apart the Saturday sitting for the consideration of Irish Business. There were 13 Orders of the Day, only four or five of which related specifically to Ireland; and amongst these was the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, which did not relate exclusively to Ireland at all, but which continued a number of Acts, many of which were of Imperial importance. There were Acts in the Schedule with regard to the continuance of the stock-in-trade exemption from rating. Did hon. Members mean to say that they wished to reject the Bill, and thereby reject the annual Bill for the exemption of stock-in-trade from rating? Did they wish to put an end to the Public Schools Bill, to the Episcopal Bill, or to the Corrupt Practices Bill? Let them deal with those Bills singly and in Committee. It was admitted that some 30 out of the 34 Acts were unobjectionable. Did hon. Gentlemen really mean that they were to reject the Bill on the second reading, and put an end to those 30 Acts to which they did not object? The proper course would be not to reject the whole Bill, but to move Amendments to the Schedule in Committee; and he could assure hon. Gentlemen on the part of the Government, that every opportunity would be given of discussing the Bill in Committee. No attempt would be made to smuggle the Bill through the House, or to force Irish Members to discuss it under inconvenient circumstances.


said, if he understood the right hon. Gentleman correctly, it was that by allowing the second reading of the Bill, the right hon. Gentleman, on the part of the Government, would not press any of those measures which they thought ought not to be continued.—[The CHAN-CELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: No, no.] At any rate, that time would be given in Committee to discuss any of those measures to which Irish Members were opposed. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: In the Schedule.] On that understanding, he should recommend his hon. Friend (Mr. Sullivan) not to press his Amendment. He could not, however, agree that proper time had been devoted to the discussion of Irish subjects that Session. The Bill relating to the Irish Constabulary Force was brought in on the 10th July; the second reading was postponed three or four times, and at last it was read a second time at 2 o'clock in the morning, without sufficient time having been given for placing a Notice on the Paper.


said, he should advise the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Sullivan) not to withdraw his Motion for Adjournment, even after the conciliatory words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The only way of making the House aware of the strong feeling entertained by the Irish people as to the mode in which legislation on Irish subjects was conducted was, by making their power as a compact body felt, in the obstruction of measures such as the present, by every means that the Forms of the House would allow. To bring them there on a Saturday, in the hopes of having a grand field-day, in which they could get rid of inconvenient Bills, and vote clown the Irish Representatives by means of a well trained majority of Ministerial followers, was monstrous and indefensible. Before the Government complained of want of time, let them cease to bring in Bills dealing with Ireland at a late hour of the morning, without any information as to what the Bills were about. Within the last few days the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland had brought in a Bill, authorizing the sale of public property to private individuals, without having had any communication with the Representatives of the counties of Mayo and Galway, in which the property was situated, and had pushed on the Bill in spite of their remonstrances, so that it was impossible for them to ascertain the feeling of the people in the neighbourhood on the subject. He did not say that the objects contemplated in the Lough Corrib Canal Bill were not proper and desirable objects. He could give no opinion on that matter; but he did say that regard for the high character of the hon. Baronet who was to buy the works, and for the good he had done in that part of the country in which he resided, should have prevented the indecent haste with which the Bill was hurried forward; for now its passage, instead of being marked by the goodwill of all concerned, would be stamped by the fact that the Representatives of the counties concerned had voted against it in every stage. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that much time had been given to Irish Members that Session; but that was a mere accidental circumstance, and did not spring from any particular willingness of the House or the Government to be informed about Irish matters. The peculiar circumstances under which the House met; the recent formation of the Government preventing it from having Bills ready to present to the House; and the thorough disorganization of the Liberal party, had given the Irish Members greater opportunities than they had ever had before. He did not know whether much good had been done in the enlightenment of hon. Members opposite; but he did believe that a vague feeling had been awakened in the House that there was something radically wrong in the state of Irish affairs, and that was in itself a gain. When, however, they spoke of attention being given to Irish affairs, let him remind them that when the Irish Licensing Bill was introduced, at 12 o'clock one night, no statement was made about it, and the promise that a full explanation should be given on the second reading was not kept at all; but, on the contrary, the second reading was taken at 1 o'clock one morning, without discussion, if not by surprise. The same thing occurred about the Judicature Bill, which was a measure of vital importance, and that was the usual or regular system of doing Irish Business. To say that they had had plenty of time was absurd; why, when they had a Motion to make—the Home Rule Motion—of the greatest importance to the country, it was with the utmost difficulty that they got a day fixed for it. When they asked for a second day, they were absolutely scoffed at; and it was only when Government came to understand how he (Mr. Henry) and his Friends would, by Motions of Adjournment, bring the Business of the House to a standstill, that they consented to give them a second day for the discussion. They ought to have had more than two days for that important debate. [Laughter.] The Chairman of the Committees laughed at the notion; but he had not objected to three days having been subsequently given to the Endowed Schools Bill, which, whatever its importance might be, was not more important than the question of the Parliamentary relations of Great Britain and Ireland. He would, however, read to the House a far more graphic description of the system pursued than any that he could give. A public writer said— Anyone who knows the way in which the purely Irish Business which is done is transacted, will scarcely regret that so much of it is left undone at the close of every Session. In the small hours of the morning a number of small Irish Bills are introduced. No statement is made of their objects, or their purpose, and they generally pass through their stages when the grey dawn of the morning is struggling with the Bude lights through the stained glass windows of the Commons' Hall. The appearance of those Bills is invariably preceded by a flight of a great number of the officials of those Boards which prey upon every Irish interest. These officials, however, like birds of ill-omen, hover round the Lobbies, or perch under the galleries, waiting anxiously for the small hours of the morning, when each of them watches over his little crotchet, or his little job. No vigilance of the most suspicious Irish Members can detect all the artifices which lie hid under all the Protean forms which these little Bills assume. If an Irish Member is content to wait in London to the very last night of the Session, and to wait each morning until the House breaks up, he is still powerless to defeat, or even to impede. The Bill is brought in at an unseemly hour, when no one remains in the House except those of the Ministers who have the strongest constitution, and their devoted adherents whom their whipper-in has influence enough to detain in the library, or smoking-room, to make a House. ["Name, name!"] He would gladly give the name of the book from which he had quoted; or, if hon. Members would promise to read it, he would present them with copies of it. The book was Irish Federation, and the author was the hon. and learned Member for Limerick. But he wished to base his opposition to that Continuance Bill upon even higher grounds. The present Bill, which contained 34 Acts, was very nearly a copy of the Bill introduced under similar circumstances last year by the late Government. The Irish Members did their best to oppose it, and when it got to the House of Lords, a noble Lord spoke of the system as follows:— The Bill under discussion was merely a means to enable Parliament and Ministers to cheat themselves, by smuggling Acts through quietly, against which there was very considerable objection. Thus Acts, which were merely allowed to pass on condition that they were only to be in operation for a year, were continued and re-continued without discussion until they became part of the permanent statutes of the land."—[3 Hansard, ccxvii. 1427.] Perhaps, the Government would be interested in knowing that it was the noble Lord the Marquess of Salisbury, a Member of the present Cabinet, who spoke those words; and that Lord Carnarvon, another Member of the present Cabinet, said— That he complained of the practice which had grown up of passing this Bill hurriedly through Parliament at the very close of the Session, when there was no opportunity of giving it adequate consideration. Many of the Acts named in it were of the very gravest importance. Many of the Acts, when first introduced, were designed to be merely temporary, but they actually became permanent by being annually renewed through the medium of this Bill."—[Ibid., 1426–7.] Well, one of these, which it was proposed now to continue, was enacted so far back as 1859, and the Irish Coercion Bills had got a year to run, so that there was no necessity to renew them now.


said, he must remind the hon. Member that he must not discuss the merits of the Bill, but must confine himself to the Motion for Adjournment.


said, he would bow at once to any intervention from the Chair, for he had no wish to be irregular, and would only observe, he thought it an excellent reason for adjournment to give Her Majesty's Government time to look into the matter, and see if his statement was not correct. If matters had been let alone, the Coercion Acts would have expired at the end of next Session of Parliament; but by including them in the present Continuance Bill, they would be kept alive for two years longer. Let the Government postpone the consideration of the Acts which did not expire that year; and then the Irish party, which had shown itself to be the true constitutional party, in favour of the maintainment of the proper Constitution of their own country, would give no opposition to the removal of Acts which did expire, although they thoroughly disapproved of this system of slipshod legislation, which was gradually undermining the liberties of the people.


said, he must repudiate the charge, that hon. Members on the Ministerial side of the House were in the habit of rushing up from the smoking-room and giving the Government a senseless support, without having listened to the debate upon the matter under discussion. For his own part, he never went into any portion of the House where hon. Members were accustomed to obtain refreshment for mind and body, that he did not find it occupied by a very much larger contingent of the Followers of the hon. and learned Member for Limerick than of any other party in the House.


said, he should not have opposed an ordinary Continuance Bill, but he objected strongly to including in such a measure debate-able matters, such as the Irish Coercion Acts, which had always been resisted by the Irish Members. He regarded the present Bill, for that reason, as irregular and unconstitutional.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 35; Noes 114: Majority 79.