§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. W. J. CORBET
, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, the measure was substantially the same as a Bill which was passed by the House of Commons two or three Sessions ago, and afterwards thrown out in the House of Lords. Its provisions were so well known that it was not necessary for him to explain them; and he would simply content himself by moving that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ COLONEL KING-HARMAN
asked if it was in Order to proceed with the second reading of a Bill which had not yet been printed?
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member has obtained leave to introduce the Bill. It has been brought in and laid on the Table of the House. He is in Order, therefore, in proceeding to move the second reading, although it is an unusual course to adopt when the Bill has not been printed.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. W. J. Corbet.)
§ MR. ION HAMILTON
said, the course taken by the hon. Member was most unusual; and as he did not know what the measure contained, notwithstanding that the hon. Member said it had already passed the House, he begged to move the adjournment of the debate.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Ion Hamilton.)
§ MR. CALLAN
said, the Bill was printed and circulated two years ago, and was adopted by the House of Commons. Its provisions were perfectly well known to both the Members for the County of Dublin, who had strong local Party interests in defeating it if they were able to do so. No doubt, the Bill, if passed, would render the voting in the County of Dublin very different from what it was.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
said, he hoped they would have some expression of the views of the Government with 511 regard to the Bill. It might be a very proper thing to alter the system of voting in Ireland. He understood that there were some defects in the system, and that the Chief Secretary for Ireland himself had some intention of proposing legislation on the matter. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman if that was the case; and, in any case, whether bethought it fair to the House, on the part of the Government, that a Bill which had not been printed should be read a second time? As far as he (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) remembered, such a course was without precedent, and he thought it was one which would be repudiated by the House.
§ MR. PARNELL
said, the Bill had been printed and circulated amongst Members every Session during the past nine years, since 1874. It had been regularly introduced by Irish Members; and in 1880 it went through all its stages with very little opposition from any Party in the House. He did not think there was even a division taken on it by the Conservative Party. No division was taken against it either on the second reading, on the Motion for going into Committee, or on the third reading stage. Finally, it went to "another place," and was there thrown out, to the very great regret of the Government, who pledged themselves to introduce a similar Bill in the following year, which they failed to do. The Government stated now they were going to introduce a Bill on the subject. He would suggest that the pro-sent measure should be allowed to pass the second reading, and that they should avail themselves of the time that would be left to them before 6 o'clock to forward a stage of a measure that the Irish Government admitted to be desirable.
§ MR. TREVELYAN
said, that the Government, like everybody else, were certainly placed in a very embarrassing position. There were, he understood, two Registration Bills before the House, one of which had been printed, and its contents were extremely familiar to the Government. The Bill which had been printed, and which was entitled the Registration of Voters (Ireland) (No. 2) Bill, was in substance the same Bill as that which went up to the House of Lords two years ago. The Government not only supported that Bill, but they had every intention, as had been previously intimated to the House, of 512 bringing in themselves a measure very much of that nature, the Bill being, as they believed, a very well-considered one. [Colonel KING-HARMAN: That was the No. 2 Bill] Yes; but with regard to the Bill which the hon. Member had just moved, he was not aware what it was; but it was extremely unlikely the Government would entertain another Bill so different from this Bill that hon. Members had thought it worth while to bring it forward as a separate measure. He could not but think that if the Government now pressed the House to read the present Bill a second time without having seen it, that course would not tend to mature the question of the registration of Irish voters. A Bill of this importance ought not to be discussed when it had not been properly submitted to the House. The Government had before them one Bill which they would substantially support; but without seeing the contents of the present Bill they were certainly not disposed to consent to support its second reading.
said, he thought the House ought not to be called upon to express its opinion on a Bill that had not yet been printed. If that principle were once established there would be no end to the Bills which would be so introduced, and with long discussions as to whether they should be read or not.
§ MR. R. POWER
said, that this Bill was exactly the same as the No. 2 Bill. One, in fact, was copied from the other, and if the Chief Secretary was so anxious to pass that measure he could not understand why he opposed the one now before the House.
§ COLONEL KING-HARMAN
said, he thought the House ought not to be called upon to give a second reading to a Bill of which they know nothing. He was under the impression on the previous day that the No. 2 Bill was the one which was on the Paper; and, if this kind of thing were to be allowed, there was nothing to stop the introduction of any number of Bills of a similar nature in precisely the same way.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, he thought it desirable that the House should consider whether it was justifiable that the second reading of a Bill should be moved before copies of it had been placed in their hands. He did not remember any occasion on which the mere fact that a particular Bill was the same as one in- 513 troduced in a former Session was held to be a ground for dispensing with its being printed. He hoped it would be understood that, in voting for the adjournment of the debate, they did so without going into the merits of the question.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, he would remind the House that the Speaker had ruled a few minutes previously that his hon. Friend was in Order in moving the second reading. There was no person who was more severe on the Irish Members than the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. J. Lowther) for doing what he was himself now doing—questioning the ruling of the Speaker. It was a fact that a Bill which was substantially the same as the present had been introduced, printed, and read for several successive Sessions, and every hon. Member must, therefore, have been acquainted with its contents. There was no material difference between the two measures. He did not blame the hon. and gallant Member for Dublin County (Colonel King-Harman) for not knowing the contents of the Bill, as he was not lately in a position to study the records of Parliament, although in the last Parliament, indeed, he voted for the measure. He was, however, very much surprised to hear the speech of the Chief Secretary and his plea of ignorance as to the contents of the Bill, when there was no material difference between it and the Bill he promised to support. He thought they had little more to thank him for than they had to thank the Prime Minister for in his speech that day. He thought the Chief Secretary had not taken a very straightforward course. He found a Bill before the House possessing a chance of success; he declined to support that Bill, and compounded with his conscience by offering to support another Bill.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
contended that the Chief Secretary had been perfectly right in the course he had taken. He had pointed out the grave responsibility the House might incur in this matter. If a Bill were allowed to pass the second reading without having been printed, what would prevent any Member introducing a Bill containing an important clause, such as one abolishing all registration, unknown to the House, and then, when objection was afterwards taken to it, saying that 514 the objection was too late, for the House had voted for the second reading? His right hon. Friend had taken up a perfectly consistent position; not having seen the Bill, he could not assent to the second reading on the mere assurance of an hon. Member that it would contain the same provisions as another Bill.
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR
said, that, after the statement of the hon. Member for Wicklow (Mr. W. J. Corbet) that this Bill was identical with the Bill which had already passed that House, the Attorney General was not justified in suggesting that his hon. Friend might introduce into it clauses not contained in the former Bill. His hon. Friend was incapable of such a trick.
§ MR. PLUNKET
asked, as a question of Order, whether the House ought to be required to take a Bill upon trust; and whether it was in accordance with the practice of the House to proceed with a Bill which had not been printed, merely on the ground that it was the same as a Bill which had already been printed and submitted to the House?
§ MR. SPEAKER
I am unable to give a satisfactory answer to that question, not being in possession of the Bill itself.
§ MR. GIBSON
said, he thought it absurd on the face of it to ask a Legislative Assembly to consent to the second reading of a Bill which had not been printed. The Bill with which the present Bill was said to be identical was a two-year-old Bill and was now forgotten by the House. But the hon. Member for Sligo had said this Bill was the same as another Bill of this Session.
§ MR. GIBSON
said, he understood they were asked to read this Bill a second time because it was the same as No. 2 Bill. The hon. Member said it was "materially" the same, while the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. E. Power) said it was "identical." Now it was said it was the same as the Bill of 1880. The House ought to know what the hon. Member for Sligo thought material and what immaterial. A Registration Bill was a Bill bristling with technicalities. The hon. Member might consider a particular point immaterial, while other Members might think it very material. He made these observations entirely in a friendly spirit; and he hoped the hon. 515 Member for Wicklow (Mr. W. J. Corbet) would postpone his Motion until the House was put in full possession of the subject.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 219; Noes 39: Majority 180.—(Div. List, No. 35.)
§ Debate adjourned till Tuesday next.