§ LORD EDMOND FITZMAURICE
said, he rose to move the Adjournment of the House, in order to call attention to what had been done on three successive Wednesdays. He thought it desirable, in the interests of Public Business, that what had happened should not pass without notice. During the Recess they had been frequently told in the speeches of Irish Members that English Members showed an unwillingness to attend to Irish Business. The statement had been made not only in speeches, but in leading articles in Irish journals. Now, what had happened in the House on three successive Wednesdays was this—that Irish Orders of the Day had stood as the first Business on the Paper, and that a House had not been formed until after considerable delay. The Irish Members had not taken the trouble to come down, and make a House for their own Business; and finally, when a House had been made, it had been done chiefly by English and other Members brought down from the Committee Rooms upstairs. The result was that the business of the Committees was interfered with, and witnesses, many of them men of business, brought from all parts of the country, had been put to serious inconvenience by the interruption of the proceedings. He made these remarks in no spirit of hostility to his Irish Friends. He had himself on three successive Wednesdays come down at the request of his hon. and gallant Friend (Major Nolan) to help to make a House; and he had too many associations with Ireland to make it a disagreeable thing for him to assist in forming a quorum for Irish Business, if only the Irish Members themselves would bear their fair share in the task. Therefore, he had simply risen to call the attention of the House, and he hoped of the country, to the fact that, although an important Irish Bill stood as the First Order on the Paper for that day, there were only a few Irish Members present. [Major NOLAN: Fifteen.] The House had not been made mainly by those Members who ought to have made it. He hoped that some other Members might be induced to express their opinion on the subject. He had brought it forward with great hesitation; 1899 but he felt that it was desirable in every way, both as regarded the transaction of Business in the House, and as regarded the importance of a knowledge in Ireland of what went on in the House, that some notice should be taken of a practice which appeared to be becoming regular, and which was neither creditable to the House, nor, if he might be allowed to say so, to those Members who, though he was satisfied they had the interests of Ireland at heart, did not take the trouble to do what he thought they ought—namely, to come down and take their fair share of the burden of making a House. To put himself in Order, he would move the Adjournment of the House.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice.)
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. GIBSON)
said, it was part of his duty, as an Irish Member and an Irish official, to attend the House whenever Irish Business was on the Paper, and, as a matter of fact, he had that day been present since about 10 minutes past 12. He did not think the charge which had been made by the noble Lord against the Irish Members of not being present to look after their own Business was, as a rule, well founded. Taking not only what were called Irish Wednesdays, but the other occasions when Irish Business came on, he believed the Irish Members performed their duty in regard to their Parliamentary attendance very well. [Lord EDMOND FITZMAURICE: I only referred to Wednesdays.] It must be remembered that the Irish Members discharged their duty under difficulties that did not beset the English Members. They came a long distance from their families and their homes, and many of them had pressing duties to perform which caused them to be absent from the House. He would remind the noble Lord of a circumstance which he would at once recognize as bearing on the point—namely, that the death of their illustrious and distinguished Friend (Mr. Butt) furnished a special excuse for the absence of many hon. Members who desired to be present at his funeral, and pay the last tribute of respect to his memory.
§ MAJOR NOLAN
said, he had first to thank the Members of Committees who had so kindly at his request consented to come down from the Committee Rooms and help to make a House. He went round to five or six Committees, and by nearly all of them he was asked the same question, namely, whether the Mace was coming—whether they were to be dissolved in case they did not obey his orders? He immediately assured them that he gave no order, that no Mace was coming, and that there was no coercion and no force. They were evidently prepared to resist coercion; but when he explained to them that he only begged of them to come down and start the Business they were very kind, and at once came, the noble Lord among the number. He wished the noble Lord belonged to the Home Rule Party, as he seemed to have a very high opinion of what Irish Members ought to do—that they ought to come down and attend to the Irish Business. For his own part, he wished they could always have 30 or 40 Irish Members present. Several of the Irish Members were among those who had that morning been engaged in Committees; but he wished they would give up Committees and everything else on Wednesdays in order to be present in the House when Irish measures were down for discussion. It would, he hoped, do the absent Irish Members good to read what the noble Lord had said that day. It was only right to say, however, that 15 Irish Members did come down, and there were many more than that present when the House was actually made. He was not himself present when the House was made, being at the moment busily engaged in trying to get Members to come. He was glad the noble Lord had called attention to the matter; and he confessed he did not know what they would do on Wednesdays if it were not for the Committees. They would probably have to change the whole system of procedure. He would only add that if the Irish Members did sometimes ask for a little assistance from the English and Scotch Members, there were none so willing to assist private Members as the Irish themselves. In fact, for the last six years the House had been largely made and kept by the Irish Members.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, it was to be regretted that Members should be brought down from Committees, and leave important Business there, in order to make a House, and he was glad that the noble Lord had raised the question in such a good-humoured way, as it would probably be a material help to the hon. and gallant Member for Galway. As far as he was concerned, he had only been brought down from Committees to make a House twice in his life, and on both occasions the Business was Irish. No doubt, a circumstance which they all regretted accounted for the absence that day of several Irish Members who would otherwise have been present; but as regarded the general question, those English and Scotch Members who took an interest in Irish affairs might reasonably expect an example of punctuality of attendance to be set by Members from Ireland when Irish Business was first upon the Paper.
§ COLONEL KING-HARMAN
thought the remarks of the noble Lord were peculiarly out of place on that occasion. If this had been a strictly Irish Bill, there might have been some reason for his complaint. As the measure set down for discussion had reference to the arming of 5,500,000 of Her Majesty's subjects, it was a question of Imperial concern, and he would have expected to see a large number of English Members, as, doubtless, there would be, when the first Division came on.
§ MR. SERJEANT SPINKS
was glad the noble Lord had called attention to the subject; but thought he had rather made a mistake in putting it forward as a matter relating to Irish Business in particular. He considered it a crying grievance that a House on Wednesday was never made till nearly 1 o'clock. The hon. and gallant Admiral (Admiral Edmonstone) and himself were generally present very early in the day, and sometimes not any other Member was there with them, and they had the pleasure of sitting there and seeing no Business transacted. If the present practice should be persisted in, some other course would have to be devised requiring the attendance of 40 Members there earlier in the day to form a House. It was a matter that deserved the attention of the Government.
§ MR. O'SHAUGHNESSY
observed, that the Irish Bills of the last two 1902 or three Wednesdays were measures brought forward by the Home Rule Party, which consisted of 50 or 60 Members. As a rule, a certain number of them were absent in Ireland on business that detained them. The distance was much greater than from any other portion of the Kingdom. Supposing, however, there were 35 or 40 Members in London, and if 20 or 25 of them attended to assist in making a House, as they had done that day, there was surely no cause for complaint. He should like to know whether any other section of Members desiring to make a House on Wednesdays for their own purposes mustered in anything like so good a proportion to their aggregate strength? There was not the slightest reason for saying they had failed in their duty. There had been between 20 and 30 of them in attendance to-day; but there was no reason why they should actually enter the House until they saw that there would not be enough to make a quorum. There was a remedy which could be easily applied by the noble Lord and his Friends. Let the English and Scotch Members—especially the latter, who owed a great deal to Irish Members—come down, and if they did not choose to consider Irish proposals, let them at least go through the form of pretending to take an interest in them. The Wednesday Sittings were the best proof of the way in which Irish measures were dealt with. Irish Members came down to discuss them, and the Attorney General for Ireland was always in his place; but the great body of the English Members stopped away till the discussion was just over, and then came down en masse to record their votes against the measure, at the direction of the powers that be. The fault was not with Irish Members, but with English and Scotch Members. It was for them to remedy it, and they could always be able to rely upon the assistance of the Members from Ireland.
§ MR. SAMPSON LLOYD
said, that much of the evil arose from the fact of the monotonous bill of fare presented to the House on successive Wednesdays. Shortly after the Session began, it was found that nearly every Wednesday had been monopolized for Irish Business; and, as Irish Members had frequently urged that they should be left to legislate for Ireland, Members not belonging to that country naturally did not feel 1903 called upon to come down to make a House when only Irish Business was to be transacted. He thought that the Rules of the House ought to be altered so as to preclude the possibilities of Wednesdays being monopolized for a particular class of Business for more than four weeks in succession. If by that means a greater variety were introduced, there would be a better chance of the attendance of Members.
§ SIR JOSEPH M'KENNA
said, he was not one of the Irish Members amenable to the observations of the noble Lord; and, therefore, he was in a position to speak on this question. The hon. Member who had last spoken had adverted to the fact that Irish measures occupied the first place on a disproportionate number of Wednesdays during the year. If so, that was one proof that the Irish Members had been attending to the legislative Business with which they stood charged. If the hon. Member opposite and his Friends did not find themselves so favourably placed on the Order Book as the Irish Members, it was because the latter, at great inconvenience to themselves, came over and paid adequate attention to the interests of their constituents. He would merely say further, that it was then 1 o'clock, and he hoped the noble Lord who was quite justified in calling their attention to the subject would withdraw his Motion, so as to allow the important Business for which they were assembled to be proceeded with without further delay.
§ LORD EDMOND FITZMAURICE
said, he had only moved the Adjournment in order to raise the question, and he thanked hon. Members for appreciating the spirit with which he did so. Being satisfied with the discussion that had taken place, he was quite ready to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.