HC Deb 19 March 1883 vol 277 cc912-7

Order for Second Reading read.


I propose to ask the House to read this Bill a second time to-night. It was read a second time last year, after a long debate and without a division. There was a very general concurrence in the House then, and in previous years, in favour of the principle of the Bill; but there was the greatest difference of opinion with regard to several of its provisions. The hours of polling provisions have been subjected to criticism, and are likely to be considerably pulled about. As to that I have no doubt; but what I wish to submit to the House is that there is no difference of opinion—unless on the part of one or two hon. Members opposite—with regard to the principle of the Bill. That principle is that the Ballot Act, which has now worked satisfactorily in this country for a considerable time, should be made permanent, instead of being renewed from year to year. That principle is the principle accepted by both sides of the House. It was so stated last year, and this is precisely the same Bill as was then before the House. That being the case, I think I may ask the House to read the Bill a second time to-night, of course, with the understanding that there shall be the fullest discussion in Committee.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir Charles W. Dilke.)

Motion made, and Question proposed' "That the Debate be now adjourned.'—(Mr. Arthur O' Connor.)


said, he wished to enter a protest against the Motion made from the Treasury Bench for the second reading of the Bill, and, at the same time, especially to remark upon the entire loss of memory on the part of the President of the Local Goverment Board, when he stated to the House that a full discussion of the Bill had been taken last year. The facts were these. The Bill stood for second reading on a certain Monday night last Session, when, owing to the deplorable events which had occurred in Dublin—the assassination of Lord Frederick Cavendish and Mr. Burke—the House was suddenly adjourned, and the Orders of the Day were passed on to the following Tuesday. On that day there happened a collapse of private Members' Motions in consequence of Mr. Speaker having ruled that the Motion of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) could not be moved by him. To the surprise of the House the debate on the Bill came on; and it appeared by the record of the proceedings in Hansard, that so far from there having been a full discussion, the discussion was extremely short, and the speeches of hon. Members who objected to the Bill were only in the form of protests—namely, those of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote)—not one Member having addressed himself to the merits of the Bill, because, as was stated at the time, it had been brought on unexpectedly. On the occasion in question the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board said that hon. Members had no right to object to the discussion on the Bill, seeing that it was only 9 o'clock in the evening. But it was now a quarter to 2 in the morning; and if that circumstance was not sufficient to cause the House to reject the proposal of the President of the Local Government Board, he would appeal to hon. Gentleman below the Gangway. He did not know whether hon. Gentlemen in that part of the House had any regard for the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain); but if they had he claimed their votes on this occasion, inasmuch as when the protests against the Bill which he had referred to were made, that right hon. Gentleman said— I have some difficulty in understanding the position taken up by the right hon. Baronet the Leader of the Opposition. It certainly is not the intention of the Government to deprecate the fullest discussion of both the principle and the clauses of the Bill."—(3 Hansard, [269] 307.) Now, he asked whether the right hon. Gentleman was prepared or not to stand by that declaration? Unless he did so, he would have repudiated the solemn engagement made by the Government last year. He was quite unable to understand the course that was being taken with regard to Business in the House. He had sat there for a number of years, and he remembered that in former days the rights of independent Members were not allowed to be frittered away in this manner. To use an expression which had lately come from an official Member on the opposite side of the House, there seemed to be a malicious conspiracy to get rid of the rights of independent Members. He contended that the President of the Board of Trade had no right, in a manner of speaking, to throw himself overboard on the present occasion; but, in that event, he hoped the free spirit of the House would be able to carry the Motion against the Government proposal.


said, the right hon. and learned Gentleman had given him leave, as he expressed it, "to throw himself overboard"—a feat of intellectual gymnastics he was entirely unacquainted with. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, however, intending no doubt to be offensive, had only succeeded in making himself ridiculous. On the occasion referred to, he (Mr. Chamberlain) stated that, as far as the Government were concerned, they desired a full discussion of the principle as well as the details of the Bill. What the Government desired then they desired now. He was prepared to admit that it was an unusual thing for the Government to press a Motion of this kind upon the House at so late an hour, unless they could show that some exceptional circumstances justified that course. But there were exceptional circumstances in this case. It was not a new Bill; its principles had been before the House on previous occasions; and, as his right hon. Friend (Sir Charles W. Dilke) had stated, it had on a former occasion passed the second reading, while, with the exception of one or two Gentlemen opposite, he believed it was generally agreed to in principle. He asked hon. Members to consider whether, unless they were opposed to the principle of the Bill, they were justified in postponing the second reading. He did not think that position was taken by any considerable number of hon. or right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and, therefore, he asked that this stage of the Bill might be allowed to be taken.


said, he hoped the hon. Member for Queen's County (Mr. A. O'Connor) would persist in his Motion for adjournment. When the Bill was introduced he had asked the President of the Local Government Board whether an opportunity would be afforded for discussion on the Motion for the second reading, and to this the right hon. Gentleman replied that the Bill having been already discussed last year, he thought the necessity for such a further discussion did not exist. But he (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) found that the Bill having been introduced last year without explanation by the President of the Local Government Board, happened to be on the Notice Paper for second reading on a certain Tuesday, two days after the ter- rible occurrence in the Phoenix Park, Dublin. It was not anticipated, a quarter of an hour before it came on, that it would be proceeded with. The right hon. Gentleman, however, moved the second reading without a word of explanation—no discussion was taken except upon the question whether it was proper, or even decent, to proceed with the second reading under the circumstances of that time. The hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) having withdrawn his Motion for adjournment, the original Motion was agreed to, on the understanding that no real debate had taken place, and that discussion should follow on the Motion for Mr. Speaker leaving the Chair. In these circumstances, he thought it unreasonable that the Government should ask the House to pass the second reading of the Bill on the plea that it had been discussed and accepted last year. There was a great deal to be said before the House could properly accept the principle of the Bill, especially with regard to the effect of the ballot upon constituencies, and the remarkable proposal that it should be left to each place to decide for itself within what hours the polling should take place. He would only detain the House for the purpose of saying that he intended to vote for the adjournment, in the hope that the Government would not proceed with their Motion.


said, he thought the Government would do well to abandon those measures not included in the number which the Prime Minister stated he wished to have referred to the Grand Committees.


appealed to the Government not to press the Motion for the second reading of the Bill. There was no opportunity of properly discussing the Bill at that hour (2 o'clock), and the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Onslow), who had given Notice of opposition, was now absent. Nevertheless, the Government persisted in their endeavour to force the Bill on the House. They had just succeeded in getting the Bankruptcy Bill read a second time, not without opposition on the part of hon. Members on that side, many of whom wished to speak on the question; and now they wanted to take the second reading of this Bill, in spite of the protests of hon. Members. He thought the course now pursued by the Government was indefensible, and trusted the Motion would be withdrawn.


said, that several Members would have remained and pressed their right to speak upon the Bankruptcy Bill, had they known that it was intended to carry the Government Business further on that occasion. It was only after some pressure on his part that they had not pressed their right to speak. It was monstrous to ask the House to discuss the Bill then. The discussion of a Bill should be taken before it was read a second time, and at least three or four hours should have been given in the present instance. It was the first time in his recollection that a Bill had been pressed forward in this manner, and he hoped the Government would consent to withdraw the Motion for the second reading.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 41; Noes 76: Majority 35.—(Div. List, No. 39.)

Original Question again proposed.


I hope, after that division, the right hon. Gentleman will allow the debate to be adjourned.


It is no use persevering at this hour, and on a matter of this kind, with our opposition to the course proposed; but I must express surprise at what fell from one right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench opposite, to the effect that the Ballot Question is still open. That was not the view generally taken by right hon. Gentlemen opposite last Session.

Debate adjourned till Thursday 29th March.