§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Evelyn Ashley.)
§ MR. RITCHIE
said, that at last this Bill, which had been so frequently delayed, came before the House for the purpose of enabling hon. Members to express an opinion as to whether, in its present form, it should be read a second time or not. He did not, of course, wish to blame the Government for the many delays which had taken place in regard to the second reading of the Bill. In fact, his (Mr. Ritchie's) feeling in reference to the delay was a mingled feeling. For some reasons he had been glad of the delay; for other reasons he regretted it. He was glad of the delay because it had afforded him more opportunities for investigating the subject; and upon each investigation he had become armed with a further authority in justification of the course which he now asked the House to adopt. On the other hand, he regretted the delay somewhat, because it had given the Government an opportunity, which they had certainly availed themselves of to the fullest extent, of endeavouring, to use a familiar word, to square hon. Members who were likely to be opposed to the second reading of the Bill. He himself knew of cases in which this influence had been exercised in a very extraordinary degree. He knew that it was not an unfrequent thing for the Government to endeavour to meet the objections which might be raised to their Bills by private Members; but it was somewhat of a novelty for the Government to endeavour, as he was told they had done in this case, to strike an absolute bargain with hon. Members who had signified their intention of opposing the Bill—that bargain being that if they would withdraw their opposition the Government would consent to make certain changes in the Bill; but that if they did not withdraw their opposition, then the Government would not make those changes. He understood that this mode of ne- 97 gotiation with hon. Members had been, to a certain extent, successful; but it was a course which would hardly redound to the credit of those in charge of the Bill. The Amendment which he had placed on the Paper was not the Amendment which he had originally placed upon it; and he thought it necessary to say a few words of explanation on the subject, in order that he might not lay himself open to the charge of having changed his front. He never intended to ask the House to refuse a second reading to this Bill on the merits of the Bill itself; but it was pointed out to him that his first Notice—"That this Bill should be read a second time on this day six months"—might be understood by some as being directed against the merits of the Bill; and, therefore, he came to the conclusion that the Amendment which he now had upon the Paper was one which more accurately represented the position which he desired to take up. He had no intention of entering into the merits of this Bill. Indeed, he contended that its merits were an altogether secondary consideration—that the question was one of far more importance than the merits of any particular Bill. The question, in point of fact, was entirely one of principle. He might point out that this Amendment, if the House assented to it, would not necessarily be fatal to the Bill. It was an Amendment which was simply directed against the mode in which the Bill was introduced; and if it were carried, there would be nothing whatever to hinder the Government from withdrawing the Bill and introducing it again to-morrow as a Public Bill.
§ Message to attend the Lords Commissioners;—
§ The House went;—and being returned;—Mr. SPEAKER reported the Royal Assent to several Bills.