§ Order for Committee read.
§ MR. A. R. D. ELLIOT
I move that you, Sir, do now leave the Chair. I do not propose to proceed with the Bill in Committee to-night, my desire being to advance the measure a stage—that is to say, to get you, Sir, out of the Chair. The consideration of the clauses in Committee I shall propose to proceed with on some other day.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."—(Mr. A. R. D. Elliot.)
§ MR. SEXTON
said, he did not think it was desirable for Mr. Speaker to now leave the Chair for the purpose of enabling the Committee to proceed with this Bill, and he (Mr. Sexton) had more reasons than one for objecting. In the first place, he considered the hour was too late. It was an hour since the Irish Members had proposed to make progress with a Bill they considered of very great importance, since it affected the question of the livelihood of 16,000 men and women engaged in the Public Service in Ireland. The Irish Members had not been allowed to make progress with that measure notwithstanding its great importance; therefore, he certainly thought the hour was too late to attempt to make progress with another Bill which only affected the hours of polling at elections in counties, a great many of which were not likely to take place for more than a year to come. If Irish Bills of importance were not to be considered at half-past 12 o'clock, he did not think English Bills of importance should be considered at half-past 1. In the second place, this Bill, though brief and apparently simple, was not quite so simple as it seemed. It proposed that the hours of polling should be from 8 o'clock in the forenoon until 8 o'clock in the evening, and though that was a symmetrical proposal which would apply equally to every constituency in the country, yet it was desirable for Members to have more time for consideration before going into Committee. The hon. and learned Member (Mr. Elliot) in making this proposal was somewhat inconsistent. The Bill was only read a second time yesterday, and surely more consideration than a few hours was required before they could decide to go into Committee upon it. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who addressed the House a few minutes ago, was greatly averse to proceeding with measures after only a few hours' consideration. Well, if a Bill of six clauses, to which there was little or no opposition on the question of principle, could not get a second reading after a few hours' consideration, he thought an important Bill like the present, though it consisted only of one clause, could not 769 be allowed to go into Committee after a few hours' consideration. He believed the measure was only circulated on Monday or Tuesday last, and only passed the second reading yesterday; and he did not think that, under the circumstances of the night, and considering what had passed, it was desirable or even decent that further progress should be made. He thought he was only performing his duty when he moved the adjournment of the debate.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Sexton.)
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND
said, he did not wish unnecessarily to detain the House. ["Oh, oh!"] If these interruptions from hon. Gentlemen opposite continued he was afraid that his remarks would necessarily be somewhat lengthy. He desired, very briefly, to support the Motion of the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) for adjournment. He could not conceive anything more thoroughly inconsistent than the action of Her Majesty's Government in refusing to accede to the Motion made a few minutes ago that a Bill much more extensive than the present measure be read a second time. It was now proposed to go into Committee on the Elections in Counties (Hours of Poll) Bill—["No, no!"]—which was of considerable interest to very many Members in the House. Many Irish Members were interested in it; and, in the interest of those Gentlemen who did not imagine that the Government were about to spring Business of this description upon the House at that late hour of the night, he was very glad that his hon. Friend had moved the adjournment of the debate. But, apart from this consideration, that there were Members interested in the Bill who were not now present, not having expected it to come on that late hour, there was another consideration which, he thought, rendered it absolutely necessary that Members from Ireland should oppose the measure at that juncture. A few minutes ago a Bill had been introduced by an Irish Member of Parliament. It dealt with a subject of very great interest to the Irish people. Her Majesty's Government refused to allow progress to be 770 made with it. Now there came on a Bill which was fathered by four English Members, and to that the Government offered no opposition at all. It was a mere insignificant Bill compared with the Irish Bill. The Government took up that position for the sole reason that the present Bill had the disadvantage—and it was always a disadvantage to any Bill with which it was desired to make progress—of being introduced by Irish Members of Parliament. He was sure if there was anything which could emphasize in the minds of the people of Ireland the action of Her Majesty's Government in refusing to allow the National School Teachers Bill to make progress, it would be the fact that now, within half-an-hour of having refused to allow that Bill to be read a second time, they were anxious to proceed with an English measure, fathered by English Members of Parliament. Such a course as that, on the part of Her Majesty's Government, led the Irish Members to the conclusion—a conclusion many of them had long since arrived at—that there was a great deal of latitude allowed to English Members and their measures, no matter how late the hour; whereas there was very little latitude allowed to Irish Members for any Irish Business which might be introduced to the House by them, and not by Her Majesty's Government. He considered that his hon. Friend, in moving the adjournment of the debate, had only done what was his absolute duty; and he sincerely hoped that it would be a lesson to the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary—who had not altogether disappeared from the House—who, although he had slaughtered one useful Irish Member—[Laughter.]—or rather measure, fortunately did not have it in his power to slaughter Irish Members. If the right hon. Gentleman had it in his power to do that he (Mr. Redmond) was afraid that some Irish Members would meet with the same fate as some of their measures. The right hon. Gentleman had not retired, and he (Mr. Redmond) was glad of that, because the present would be a very good example of that which the right hon. Gentleman had to expect at the hands of the Irish Members, if he persisted unnecessarily and intentionally in obstructing legislation which those Members introduced into the House. He sincerely 771 hoped that not only would his hon. Friends support the Motion for Adjournment which had been made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Sligo, but that, in their turn, very many of them would also move adjournments, and so teach English Members that though they might triumph in their attempts to suppress Irish Members in the measures they introduced, they would not succeed in that triumph without considerable loss of sleep.
§ MR. KENNY
said, that notwithstanding that fact, and the interruptions of hon. Gentlemen sitting opposite, Members of a "superior race" had declined to allow the name of an Irish Member to be placed on the back of the Bill, or to become in any way responsible for its passing into law. He entirely repudiated the right of hon. Members sitting on the other side of the House to attempt to force on, with consultation or without consultation, legislation of a grave and serious character on the House. This was said to be a measure affecting the interests of the Irish; and if it were so, it would be a matter upon which the Irish people might be expected to entertain some opinion. He thought it was due, therefore, to the Irish Members that before legislation of this character was proposed in that House by private Members of the standing of the hon. and learned Member whose name was first on the back of the Bill, some consideration ought to be shown to those hon. Gentlemen, even to those sitting on the hon. and learned Member's own side of the House, and the framers of the Bill should have had the courtesy to consult such Members with regard to their views upon such a subject. He could not protest too strongly against what he must characterize as the wantonness of English Members, with their affectations of superiority and their affectations of a right to rule.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. Member is neither respectful to the House, nor is he confining himself to the subject of the Motion before the House.
§ An hon. MEMBER: You have.
§ MR. KENNY
said, he was simply endeavouring to point out that the unusual course which had been adopted by hon. Gentlemen responsible for the introduction of the Bill was in itself sufficient to provoke the opposition of the Irish Members. He would like to know what did the hon. and learned Gentleman whose name stood first on the back of the Bill expect to gain by taking the stage he proposed to gain that night. If he succeeded in gaining that stage did he propose to run the Bill through Committee at once? [Mr. A. R. D. ELLIOT: No!] He (Mr. Kenny) should like to know, then, what object the hon. and learned Member could have in view in thus endeavouring to force on, at that extraordinary and unusual hour, a stage which was a mere formal one, in view of the fact that no further progress could be made with the measure for the next two or three months? If no further progress could be made with it for such a period the attitude of the hon. and learned Member was one of the most unjustifiable and extraordinary that could possibly be conceived. They were asked to proceed with the Bill at an unusual hour; they were asked to proceed with it without having had, as he conceived, an opportunity of having its merits sufficiently investigated; and they were asked to proceed with it at a time which was absolutely unsuited to its discussion. Even if an additional stage were taken it could not be of the slightest service to hon. Members who seemed so anxious for its passage. He doubted very much whether the Bill was one which would be of a serviceable or useful nature. He very much doubted whether the proposals involved would not result in the very greatest possible inconvenience.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I really must ask the hon. Gentleman to observe the ruling of the Chair, and not to deviate into irrelevant matter. He is now discussing the principle of the Bill on the Question of Adjournment.
§ MR. KENNY
said, it was only that moment that he had learnt that the Motion before the House was for the adjournment of the debate; and to that Question, no doubt, he had not been confining himself strictly. He, however, 773 was perfectly unconscious that he was not now addressing himself to the Question before the House. ["Order!"] At the same time, he believed Mr. Speaker to be the best judge as to whether anything he (Mr. Kenny) was saying did or did not come, in a certain sense, within the meaning of the Motion made by his hon. Friend. With regard to that Motion for Adjournment, he sincerely hoped that the House, which a few minutes ago so speedily voted the adjournment of a somewhat similar and more important question, would now maintain its logical consistency, and also decline to proceed at that extraordinary hour with a measure which had not been sufficiently considered, which had been introduced without consultation with hon. Members sitting on the Irish Benches, and the pressing of which, if the hon. and learned Member in charge of it insisted in pressing it on, would only result in its meeting with more strenuous opposition in the future than was offered to it now.
MR. JUSTIN M'CARTHY
said, he agreed with the proposal which had been made by his hon. Friend the Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton). It would be much the best course to adjourn the debate. It was undoubtedly a measure which would require serious consideration; and, if this stage were taken, it would make an important difference to the Bill. When once the Chairman was got into the Chair the Bill could come on in Committee at any hour of the night; and if the House were to sit tomorrow it might come on then. He did not think that the House generally had given sufficient consideration to the provisions of the measure. He was himself inclined to support the Bill; but he did not think it could be discussed at that hour of the morning, and it would be more satisfactory if the hon. and learned Gentleman in charge of it would allow this stage to be postponed until a future opportunity.
§ MR. A. R. D. ELLIOT
wished to remind hon. Members that there had been an agreement between the two sides of the House in regard to the Bill, by which it was to be put down for this stage, and a date fixed for going into Committee, without real progress being made in Committee itself. No objection was taken to that course. A complaint had been made that the name of no 774 Irish Member appeared at the back of the Bill. He was sorry that that was so, and personally he could have wished that the name of some Irish Member should have appeared upon it, because it did so happen that the Bill was in tended to apply to the Three Kingdoms The object of the Bill——
§ MR. A. R. D. ELLIOT
begged pardon, and regretted that for a moment he should have been about to trespass upon the Rules of the House. He hoped the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) would advise his Friends to allow this stage of the Bill to be taken, so that they might be able to make further progress with the measure in February next.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
said, he would appeal to the Government not to allow this stage to be taken. It would look very badly in Ireland when it was found that the interests of the National School teachers of that country could not be discussed in the House of Commons, because the hour was too late, and yet that another Bill, which stood later on the Paper, could be brought on. No doubt, if the circumstances had been of an ordinary character, the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Elliot) would have had the assistance of the Irish Members in passing the Bill; but, at the same time, it was a measure for which nobody had asked in Ireland, and after the House of Commons had refused to go into the grievances of the Irish National School teachers—a matter which had been before the House for years—the next thing they proposed to do was to go on with a very important Bill of which nobody had ever heard before. His own opinion was that the Bill would require some little watching on the part of the Irish Members in Committee; but if once they got the Speaker out of the Chair, the measure could be brought on at any hour of the night and rushed through Committee without any discussion whatever. ["Divide!"] If hon. Members opposite were so anxious to join in the debate, it would be better for them to get upon their legs, instead of addressing remarks to the House from their seats. He really did not think that the National teachers of Ireland would be much pleased, or would consider that they had been fairly dealt with by Her Majesty's Govern- 775 ment, if the Government consented to support the Motion for going into Committee on this Bill. He would point out to the hon. and learned Member in charge of the measure that he would facilitate the progress of the Bill much more by getting the Irish Members on his side than in securing their opposition. For his own part, he was bound to say, as a matter of fact, that he had not heard one word in Ireland about the Bill.
§ SIR WILFRID LAWSON
said, he only rose for the purpose of making one suggestion. Perhaps, if his hon. and learned Friend who was in charge of the Bill would consent to exclude Ireland from its operation, it might make all the difference.
said, he could not quite understand the enthusiasm of the hon. Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson), and hon. Members around him, in desiring to rush the Bill through the House at that hour of the morning (2.5). He should have expected that hon. Members, who in such troops had followed Her Majesty's Ministers into the Lobby a short time ago, in order to set their foot down upon an important Irish measure, on account of the shortness of the Notice and the lateness of the hour, would have got up to discourage the present attempt, at a still later hour of the morning, to pass a vital stage of a Bill, which involved an important principle, proposed for the first time yesterday. There was also some occasion to remark that the Government, who were so eager a short time ago to adjourn the debate on the Irish National School Teachers Bill, were manifesting no anxiety now as to the hour of the night, or as to the circumstances under which the Bill came before the House. It seemed to him that every argument that weighed with the majority a while ago for adjourning the debate upon the Bill which had been just decided was equally strong when applied to the present Bill. The Bill involved a new principle; it was only yesterday submitted to the House; and it did not, as in the case of the Bill of his hon. Friend the Member for Longford (Mr. Justin M'Carthy), involve a principle which had long ago been sanctioned by the House. On the contrary, it introduced a totally new principle. He was not about to enter into the dis- 776 cussion of that principle. All he would say was that hon. Members opposite who suggested that there was nothing to discuss in the matter were in error. The Bill involved some important considerations in reference to the convenience of voters in Ireland, the expense of elections, and whether time might not be saved and expense now incurred at elections obviated. He did not propose to enter into those questions now; but it seemed to him that there was no possible reason why the majority of the House should vote for expediting the passage of this Bill that night, and getting it practically through its vital stage, after having voted for the slaughter of the Irish measure. There was no possible distinction between the two cases, except that the one Bill was Irish and the other was not. He would urge hon. Members opposite, in the peculiar circumstances under which this Bill came before the House, to consider whether they might not possibly be facilitating the ultimate passage of the measure by consenting that night, in deference to the opinion expressed on the Irish Benches, to forego the present stage, knowing as they did that they would have an opportunity to-morrow, in good time, and with full Notice to hon. Members who were not then present, of getting the stage they desired.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
wished to assure the hon. and learned Gentleman in charge of the Bill, in reference to the remarks he had made, that several Irish Members were yesterday engaged upon an important Committee upstairs at the time this Bill was going through the House. The questions referred to the Committee were of vast importance, and required the serious attention of the Irish Members. Personally, he knew nothing of the present Bill until he took up the newspapers in the morning and read the report of the discussion. The Bill had, therefore, come upon him, to a certain extent, as a surprise. He did not propose to discuss the principle of the Bill. Probably, on the whole, he was inclined to be favourable to the general principle of the measure; but he thought it was unfair to ask the Irish Members to discuss it at that hour of the morning. The hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson), whose retreating form he saw departing from the House, had suggested that 777 Ireland should be omitted from the operation of the Bill. That was a proposition which would by no means meet the objections of the Irish Members. He confessed that he was quite unable to see the relevancy of that argument. A few moments before the discussion of this Bill was entered upon there was a Bill under the consideration of the House which excluded from its operation both England and Scotland. It was a Bill which applied to Ireland, and to Ireland alone; but the fact that England and Scotland were rigidly excluded from the operation of the Bill did not prevent the hon. Baronet, and the hon. and learned Gentleman who was mainly responsible for the Bill, and other hon. Members, whose impatience now to get to bed was one of the causes of the prolongation of the present debate—the rigid exclusion of England and Scotland from the operation of that Bill did not prevent those Gentlemen from enthusiastically and multitudinously following the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary in the Division which prevented progress being made with that Bill. Surely what was sauce for the goose in that case was sauce for the gander now. The arguments on one side applied equally to the others. Hon. Members had gone into the Lobby mere at the bidding of the Minister of the Crown to vote down the Irish Members and adjourn one of their measures; and they could not be surprised if the Irish Members attempted to pay them back in their own coin by adopting the same inconsiderate means they had themselves resorted to. It did not seem to him that the House generally was willing to accept the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) for the adjournment of the debate. He would, therefore, suggest to his hon. Friend that although the hour was advanced they were quite prepared to discuss the Bill, if a discussion were persisted in. He would, therefore, advise his hon. Friend to allow the Motion for Adjournment to be withdrawn, or, if the House refused to allow that course to be taken, to permit it to be negatived without a Division, and then to go on with the discussion of the Bill, although he certainly protested against being compelled to do so at such an inopportune and unreasonable hour of the morning.
§ MR. WARTON
said, he supported the adjournment of the debate, because he was strongly opposed to the provisions of the Bill; and he only regretted that he had not been able to put down a blocking Notice against it. If the Government did their duty they would give more scope to the half-past 12 o'clock Rule, and thus extend its utility.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, that if the House desired to go on with the discussion of the Bill he would ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
desired to say a few words upon the Bill. He did not think the measure was very much wanted in Ireland. He had been engaged in several election contests, both in his own and other counties; and he thought they had always been able to finish them by 3 o'clock in the afternoon. He had certainly never heard anybody complain of the inconvenience to the voters either in the county districts in Ireland or in the large towns. By the fact of the poll being closed at 5 o'clock he was afraid that more and unnecessary trouble might be entailed. The longer the poll was kept open the larger would the number of the people be who would be required to watch the ballot boxes; and, of course, they would expect to be paid for their services. The Returning Officer and the Sheriffs were not in any way in the confidence of the great body of the people of Ireland. Those gentlemen had charge of the ballot boxes, and under the provisions of this Bill they would have to convey them from the polling booth in the dark. He thought it was highly objectionable that they should be permitted to be taken away in the dark. He had known several cases in his own constituency, in the county of Leitrim, and other places, where a large number of votes had been invalidated in consequence of the presiding officer writing a name on the ballot papers. There was not the slightest doubt whatever that whoever did it did it on purpose to invalidate the vote; and he maintained that any person who was capable of invalidating a ballot paper by writing a name on the back of it was perfectly capable of tampering with the ballot boxes when they were being conveyed away from the polling booths at 779 night. At any rate, their conveyance at night would very much assist persons who desired to tamper with the ballot boxes. There was an Amendment he would certainly like to propose in Committee on the Bill, and he would give Notice of it at once, because he had no desire to spring matters suddenly in the Committee itself; but he preferred to give time for considering them. He had proposed this Amendment before; but unfortunately the present Attorney General, and the Government, and the principal Members of Her Majesty's Opposition were against him. His Amendment, as the Attorney General would probably recollect, was simply this—that the presiding officer should not be allowed to go away from the polling booth in one carriage, and place the ballot boxes in charge of some other person who returned home in another. It ought also to be provided that the ballot boxes should be handed over to the Postmaster General, or his representative, wherever it was practicable, in order that they might be conveyed to some special and properly constituted establishment. He was satisfied that if this Amendment were passed, in addition to saving expense, it would materially add to the security in Ireland of the ballot papers. He could not conceive what possible objection there could be to hand them over to the Postmaster, instead of allowing them to be conveyed away as they were now. He certainly intended to propose this Amendment when the Bill got into Committee, and he trusted that it would be fairly considered. It was an obvious means of saving expense at elections, and it was rendered more necessary by the fact that at the present moment the ballot boxes were required in many instances to be conveyed for long distances. It was very unfortunate there had been no consultation with the Irish Members, because there were few counties in England in the position of Irish counties. English counties were largely made up of towns, and the distances between the different polling places were short. In Irish counties the ballot boxes had often to be conveyed 40 or 50 miles by car. In his own county—Galway—the ballot boxes had to be carried long distances on outside cars, and now they would have to be conveyed by night, and he was afraid the Sheriff would have to put off the counting until 780 the next day. He did not think they could be too particular in seeing that there could not be any possibility of suspicion that the boxes had been tampered with. He did not deny that the measure was required in England. No doubt it would in its operation prove very convenient in the large towns; but it certainly was one that was not much asked for in Ireland, and one which must, from an Irish point of view, be looked at very carefully.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
said, his hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Nolan), without committing himself on the subject, had indicated that there were several reasons why the provisions of the Bill should not be made applicable to Ireland. There were several things to be considered before the Bill passed through Committee. When the Bill was read a second time the general understanding in the House was that there were a large number of subjects in connection with the Bill which would have to be considered by the Government before any progress was made with the clauses in Committee. It was upon that understanding that his hon. Friend (Mr. A. R. D. Elliot) promised to postpone the Committee stage until March. The hon. and learned Gentleman had promised again that night to put off the Committee until March; and if when the beginning of March came they had not come to a clear understanding as to what alterations, if any, should be introduced in the Bill, he (Sir Charles W. Dilke) had no doubt his hon. and learned Friend would put off the Committee to even a later date than that. Of course, he could not pledge his hon. and learned Friend, but he promised to put himself in communication with his hon. and learned Friend, and other hon. Gentlemen interested; and if he found it was generally felt that the Bill was not required in Ireland, he should strongly advise a concession to Irish opinion on the subject.
§ MR. CALLAN
said, he was glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Sir Charles W. Dilke) that it was a matter for consideration whether Ireland should be included in the Bill or not. He expressed no opinion as to the inclusion of Dublin and Belfast in the Bill. He had never been at an election at either place; but he had had 781 large experience of borough and county elections in other parts of Ireland. He had entered upon contests in three boroughs and two counties, and he had had something to do with other elections besides his own. As to the county elections, the constituencies were polled early to the last man; indeed, from 3 to 5 o'clock the polls were entirely idle. Those hours were merely spent by the polling officials in cracking jokes, or in preparing for the journey with the ballot boxes which had to be undertaken to the large town. He could see no possible good in applying this Bill to any county in Ireland. On the contrary, he could see a great deal of harm; and, therefore, before committing themselves for or against the Bill, it was as well he and his hon. Friends should consult their constituents. There was no need to hurry; no Party would be injured by a few weeks' delay. Unlike the National School teachers, no person would suffer by the Bill being put off until the 19th of February. He did not see why there should be an attempt to rush the Bill into Committee, and preclude discussion on it, when in the two months' interval which was to ensue in their Parliamentary labours hon. Members would have time to consult their constituents, and ascertain whether they should vote for or against the Bill. If it went to a division now, he should vote against the measure. He would much prefer that he was not called upon to record his vote until he had had time to consult his constituents. What objection could there be to a postponement of the debate? Why should they take a Division now unless it was to preclude them, with the full information they would obtain in the Recess, from discussing the question on the Motion that the Speaker do leave the Chair? He could not see that any valid argument could be advanced in favour of the Speaker leaving the Chair now. He interpreted the hon. and learned Gentleman's (Mr. A. R. D. Elliot's) persistence to mean that they should not, with the full knowledge they would acquire by consulting their constituents, discuss the question. He (Mr. Callan) should certainly vote against the Speaker leaving the Chair on the present occasion. He appealed to the hon. and learned Gentleman, who went into the Lobby against the Irish Members in the last Division, 782 to give them a quid pro quo; he asked the hon. and learned Gentleman to do the same justice to them as he did to the National School teachers of Ireland, and postpone his own child, however complete it might be, until the beginning of next year, and allow the House then to discuss the question on the Motion that the Speaker should leave the Chair. He had only had occasion during the last few minutes to look at the Bill and to refer to his own electioneering experience, which he should say was much more varied and larger than that of the hon. and learned Member (Mr. A. R. D. Elliot).
MR. JUSTIN M'CARTHY
said, the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Sir Charles W. Dilke) gave one good reason at least why Irish Members should object to the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman told them there had been a consultation between both the English Parties. To that consultation the Irish Members were certainly not invited.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
said, he was alluding to what passed in public in the House yesterday afternoon.
MR. JUSTIN M'CARTHY
remarked that, during the earlier part of the discussion in the House yesterday, some of the Irish Members were engaged on the Labourers' Committee upstairs. However, there were other reasons why Irish Members should object to the Bill. He had not heard any reason given why this Bill was required in Ireland. Personally, he was rather inclined to support the measure under certain conditions. Of course, the extension of the hours of polling must have the effect of keeping the results of elections in suspense, or unknown for a longer time. This would cause a prolongation of all public excitement, which was not in itself desirable. These were objections common to both England and Ireland. The people of Ireland, however, now lived under the most severe coercive measure ever applied to their country, and one of the provisions of that measure was that any person found out of his house at night might be arrested by a policeman on his own re- 783 sponsibility, and if he could not give reasons for his being abroad sufficient to satisfy the highly intelligent mind of the policeman he could be dragged off to the nearest police station. Another provision was that anyone found at night in any part of the country to which he might by any possibility be called a stranger was liable, in the same way, to be seized by any policeman, clapped into prison, and sentenced to a term of imprisonment. Under such circumstances, he wanted to know whether his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. A. R. D. Elliot) did not think there was very good reason indeed why Irish Members should be especially cautious in having a Bill of this kind applied to Ireland? What he should desire to see was the insertion in this Bill of some clause which should exempt from the fearful provisions of the Prevention of Crime Act every man honestly engaged in going to or coming from the poll. He was sure that his hon. and learned Friend, with his usual sense of fairness and justice, would see that Irish Members could not allow this Bill to pass without some such restrictions as he (Mr. Justin M'Carthy) had indicated. Was every man found ten or a dozen miles away from his home to be treated like a felon, though he happened to be there for the purpose of recording his vote? These were considerations which every English Member must admit made Irish opinion with regard to this Bill totally different from English opinion. He did not commit himself to any opposition to the Bill; all he wanted was that the Government should give them to understand that they were prepared to do something which would prevent a cruel coercive law from being made more cruel and more coercive in its application than it need be.
§ MR. GRAY
said, he did not profess to be of opinion that this Bill was required in Ireland; in fact, he had not now any opinion on the subject. He ventured, however, to suggest to his hon. Friends who were more or less opposed to it one or two considerations which he thought might possibly cause them to modify their views. The people of Ireland had suffered enormously in all matters affecting the franchise, and in all matters affecting redistribution, and generally affecting the powers and privileges of voters; the people of Ireland had suffered enormously owing to 784 Bills being introduced applicable only to England, and it had been years and years afterwards that they had been enabled to have the principles of those Bills extended to Ireland, and only then usually in a very modified and imperfect way. It was manifest that the only chance they really had had of obtaining an extended franchise and of obtaining a proper redistribution of seats in Ireland was by insisting upon equal laws upon those subjects being extended to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland; and he thought it was a little dangerous for Irish Members to say, in regard to a Bill of this kind, that they desired Ireland should be excluded. He recognized, of course, the force of the observations of his hon. Friend who had just spoken (Mr. Justin M'Carthy), and of his hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Nolan); but he did not think the considerations they had set forth were of any great importance. He did not think it was likely that men would be arrested coming home from the poll, or that the ballot boxes, during their conveyance to the place of counting, were likely to be tampered with; but he thought that to stamp with their approval the principle of exceptional legislation on a question affecting the franchise was rather a dangerous step for Irish Members to take. He would be quite content that on all questions of this kind there should be a general un-standing that Ireland should share the conveniences or inconveniences, as the case might be, with England. For that reason, especially now that a pledge had been given that no further stage of the Bill would be taken until March, and that if then Irish Members were found adverse to the application of the Bill to Ireland the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Sir Charles W. Dilke) would advise the hon. and learned Gentleman in charge of the Bill to yield to their views, he could not see why they should object to the Motion that the Speaker should leave the Chair.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
said, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Sir Charles W. Dilke) would not be led away by the remarks addressed to the House that evening with the idea that the Irish Members were unanimous on this question. One of the disadvantages 785 of the manner in which this Bill had been precipitately brought forward and pushed on was that the Irish Members had not had an opportunity of determining this simple question amongst themselves—in fact, the majority of the Irish Members were quite ignorant that this Bill was in so advanced a state. Now, he himself was very strongly inclined to the principle of the Bill, partly because he thought the more facilities given for voting the better, and partly for the reason put forward by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Carlow (Mr. Gray)—namely, that the more uniform the laws of England and Ireland were on such matters the better for England and Ireland. What was desired was that there should be a general uniformity of laws between England and Ireland, and he and his hon. Friends were particularly anxious to relieve Ireland of coercion laws. He appealed to the candid mind of the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. A. R. D. Elliot) who had charge of the Bill. There was a Coercion Act in operation in Ireland as everybody knew. Under that Coercion Act, as had been pointed out by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Longford (Mr. Justin M'Carthy), a man who happened to be out of his house during the hours covered by this Bill was liable to arrest and imprisonment; a man could be put in the police lock-up for one night, and brought before the magistrate next day. What was the ground on which a man could be locked up? That he was a stranger to the district, and the person who was to be the judge of whether he was a stranger or not was a policeman—a policeman who, as a rule, was himself a stranger to the district. In other words, if a man in the county of Mayo was not able to establish his identity to a policeman from the county of Antrim he was liable to be arrested and cast into gaol. He (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) thought he and his hon. Friends were perfectly justified in bringing forward in this manner the extraordinary meaning of the coercive legislation in Ireland, legislation which actually acted as a bar to the bulk of the people whom it was sought to benefit by this Bill. They meant to bring before the House the effect of the Coercion Act, and they would be wanting in their duty if they did not take every opportunity of so doing. He thought, there- 786 fore, they would be justified in saying to the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. A. R. D. Elliot) that their future attitude would largely depend upon the position he took up as to the very necessary addition to the Bill which would be proposed. The addition could be made in a few lines. A Proviso could be inserted to the effect that, from and after the passing of the Act, the "Curfew" Clauses of the Prevention of Crime Act—"strangers" Clauses, or whatever else might be the police name by which they were known—should not be in operation in any district in which an election was taking place. If the hon. and learned Gentleman would consent to that, it would do away with a great deal of the opposition which was likely, otherwise, to be offered to the Bill. He (Mr. O'Connor), in saying that, wished to guard hon. Gentlemen on the Irish Benches from being considered to hold anything like an unanimous view on the question. He had not had the experience of the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Callan) in connection with county elections, especially county elections of a hotly contested character. Hotly contested county elections might have prejudiced the mind of the hon. Member, as he had so successfully gone through those contests. They, who had not had the hon. Member's experience, believed that the longer the hours were and the greater the facilities for getting to the poll the better it was for them. He thought it would have been wiser to have allowed the debate to be adjourned; but he hoped that before the next stage hon. Gentlemen belonging to the Irish Party would have had a meeting, and would be able to present their opinions to the House.
§ DR. LYONS
said, that in consequence of some observations which had fallen from some hon. Members opposite, he wished to say that he should most strongly deprecate the exclusion of Ireland from the operation of the Bill. He was sure any proposal to exclude Ireland would be received with very great regret. All the arguments in favour of allowing the working classes of England plenty of time to get to the poll applied to the working classes of Ireland with even greater force, on account of the greater distances to be travelled and the difficulties attendant upon getting to the polling places. 787 Mayo, for instance, it was proposed to divide into four sections; and as the county was of no inconsiderable size, distances of very great reach would have to be covered by voters, and it was difficult for them to travel from their residences or their work, backwards and forwards, in the limited time allowed under the existing law. He, therefore, wished to enter his protest against the idea of Ireland being excluded from this very excellent Bill. The question of the difficulty of transmitting the polling boxes had been mentioned; and that seemed to him to be a matter it was very proper to take into consideration in connection with the amendment of the Bill. It was, he thought, one of the reasons why it was most desirable that the measure should be advanced from its present stage, so that they might be ready to proceed with the consideration of its details at once next year. He, himself, knew of a case in which a ballot box had been lost during transit at night. The whole of the county having been ransacked for it, it was eventually found on the bank of a river at 4 or 5 o'clock in the morning. It was a very fortunate thing that it had not fallen into the river; but, as it was, the episode caused great delay in the declaration of the poll. He (Dr. Lyons) was present when the Bill was discussed yesterday, and had found the House so unanimously in its favour that he had not had the least expectation that there would be the smallest objection to it coming from Ireland. He had reason to know that there was a strong feeling in many country districts in Ireland in favour of some measure for the purpose of facilitating access to the poll. There was a strong feeling that the difficulty of getting to the poll was very great, and that the hours of polling should be extended, and there could be no doubt that with an extended franchise this feeling would have double force. He trusted Mr. Speaker would now be allowed to leave the Chair.
said, he was surprised to find that the hon. Member for Dublin (Dr. Lyons) retained any lively interest at all in the hours of polling. He (Mr. O'Brien) could assure the hon. Member that he was under a totally erroneous impression, if he thought that anybody on those—the Irish—Benches had asked for, or declared for, the exclusion of 788 Ireland from the Bill. This discussion was an admirable illustration of the inconvenience of rushing the Bill through at that break-neck speed, in spite of the protests of the Irish Members. The effect of the course which was being adopted was, that considering the measure on the spur of the moment, as they were obliged to do, Irish Members were unable to make up their minds one way or the other in reference to it. The subject was one which had been very little discussed in Ireland. There was a great deal of force, he believed, in what had fallen from the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Callan) and the hon. Member for Calway (Mr. T.P. O'Connor) as to the great distances that, in some instances, the ballot boxes had to be carried after dark, and as to the delay in ascertaining the results of elections in consequence. There might be, also, a question as to additional expense to candidates in consequence of the prolonged hours the polling clerks and other officials would have to work, for he took it for granted that the fees for these long hours would have to be considered, and made greater than those which were now granted. On the whole, his own opinion strongly tended in favour of the Bill; for while he perfectly agreed with the hon. Member for Louth that under present circumstances the polling was practically over when the hour for closing the boxes arrived, yet they could not forget that the electorate at forthcoming elections would be an entirely different one, and that it might be a great convenience to many to have an opportunity of voting after their work was over, and after the present hour for closing the boxes. He thought that, considering that the principle of the measure had been already applied to towns, and that now it was sought to extend the hours of polling in counties it was desirable that it should be passed. He could conceive it possible that the present hours might have the effect of disfranchising many of the agricultural labourers in Ireland, who lived by their day's work, and who, perhaps, would scarcely be prepared to give up a day's wages, or half a day's wages, for the privilege of recording their vote. To that whole class, whose work did not finish until 6 o'clock, and who, at times, worked at long distances from the polling stations, the enlargement of the hours of poll to 789 8 o'clock might be a very important boon. For that reason he was inclined to favour the principle of the Bill. At the same time, Members representing Ireland had had such little opportunity of considering it, that he confessed he could not see why the hon. and learned Member who introduced the Bill could not consent to forego for that night his chance of getting this very important stage of the Bill. Let the consideration of the Bill be resumed in February on the same terms as that night. Hon. Members would then come to the discussion with their minds made up on the subject and having ascertained the feeling of their constituents. The hon. and learned Member (Mr. Elliot) would have lost nothing in regard to the progress of the Bill. On the contrary, he would have done a great deal of good, as such a course would, probably, result in his securing the unanimous support of the Irish Members. There was no special hurry for the passage of the Bill. There would be no General Election until the end of next year or the beginning of the year after next; therefore, there could not be said to be a killing hurry for the Bill. He would submit to the hon. and learned Member, therefore, that it would be worth his while to consider in this matter the strongly expressed opinion of the Irish Members.
§ MR. CAINE
said, that in regard to the question of expense, which had been mentioned by the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down (Mr. O'Brien), there had been a great deal of experience of the working of the Hours of Poll Act in the Metropolis, and they had found that the extension of the hours had not increased the expenses. It had been just as easy to get clerks, and so on, for 12 hours as it had been to get them formerly for the shorter period. He would remind hon. Members that those who had charge of the Bill had no intention of proceeding with the Committee stage until March next.
§ MR. KENNY
wished to know whether it was to be understood that those in charge of the Bill agreed that it would be expedient for the Irish Members to ascertain from their constituents whether they desired that the Bill should not extend to Ireland, or should be modified in regard to that country, and that the Government would then accede to the representations of the Irish Mem- 790 bers? Was he to understand that, or that the Government would take the Bill into consideration, and would be prepared, when the House re-assembled in February next, to state whether or not it should extend to Ireland? Because, on the one hand, if the Government expressed their determination to accede to the wishes of the Irish Members, as expressed, two or three months hence the reason for opposing further progress would be diminished. But, on the other hand, if the Government were to reserve the right to say whether the Bill should extend to Ireland or not, it was only fair that Members should not be precluded from discussing the principle of the Bill. With Mr. Speaker out of the Chair it would not be possible to place on the Paper that Notice of objection which would ensure its being considered at a reasonable hour. To his mind the expediency of extending the Bill to Ireland was very greatly in question. He was inclined to believe that in the industrial parts of Ireland the present hours of polling were quite sufficient—certainly were not such as precluded the voters from going to the poll. Even the labouring part of the population, who would be so soon admitted to the right of voting, would not be prevented from voting within the nine hours which were at the present time allowed. He had frequently witnessed contested elections in Irish counties; and he could corroborate the statement of the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Callan) that a great portion, if not absolutely the entire portion, of the polling had taken place two hours before the limit of time had been reached. He was afraid that extending the hours of polling in the Irish counties would give opportunities to certain agents for the exercise of corruption and other undue influences in Irish constituencies; and it was, he thought, the duty of the Irish Members very carefully to consider whether the extension of the hours of polling to 8 o'clock at night would not have the effect of demoralizing the Irish electors to a greater or less extent. English Members did not understand the real condition of things in Ireland, just as many Irish people did not understand the condition of things in England. There was great danger in some districts of Ireland of the agents and candidates exercising corruption, or in- 791 timidation, or inciting to riot—proceedings which there would be no reason to fear in England—by reason of continuing the excitement of the elections so long into the night in the country. Then there were the objections which had been stated to the measure by the hon. and gallant Member for Galway County (Colonel Nolan)—namely, the dangers and inconveniences which would result from conveying the sealed ballot boxes from the various polling places to the central district—sometimes a distance of 40 miles. In some oases the central districts were more than 40 miles away from some of the polling stations—indeed, he knew instances where they were over 60 miles away. In Mayo and other places they were sometimes 70 miles away. The dangers attendant upon carrying the boxes in these remote districts such long distances was, of course, extremely great. As to the objections which had been urged to extending the hours of polling in view of the fact that the Prevention of Crime Act was in operation in Ireland, and that persons engaged in elections might be arrested, he thought that if the Bill were extended to Ireland when it became an Act it would exist for a much longer time than any exceptional legislation in the nature of a Coercion Act; and that, therefore, there was no danger in that respect in the future, though there might be at the present time. It seemed to him that this proposal to extend the hours of polling to 8 o'clock at night, while it might be most excellent and desirable in England and Scotland, was one which would have to be considerably modified in its application to Ireland.
§ MR. R. N. FOWLER
said, he rose in consequence of the speech which had been addressed to the House by the hon. Gentleman the junior Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Caine). The hon. Gentleman had referred to his experience in connection with Metropolitan electors. He was quite aware that the hon. Gentleman was a candidate for the representation of Middlesex; but he was not aware that he had ever yet contested any seat in the Metropolis, although he had fought an election at Liverpool and a good many at Scarborough. There was no doubt, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman had had a considerable amount of experience in connection with 792 electioneering matters, although he had not had any experience so far as the Metropolis was concerned. He would prefer, therefore, to appeal to the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. E. Biddulph Martin). The hon. Member and himself were opponents at the last General Election; and ho thought the hon. Member would admit that in the contest they had fought the election was practically over by 4 o'clock in the afternoon. At that hour a very few electors indeed remained to be polled, although they included one or two Cabinet Ministers. That fact, however, made no impression on the result, and towards the close of the poll the clerks were found sitting in the polling booth doing absolutely nothing. From the personal experience he had gained in connection with Parliamentary elections he could only say that these long hours were altogether unnecessary; and he did "not think that the hon. Member for Tewkesbury, who really understood the question, would differ from him so far as his experience went in regard to elections in the City of London. He was glad to have an opportunity of making that remark, after the magniloquent speech they had heard from the junior Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Caine).
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
said, he would not dispute that arrangements which were desired by the majority of constituencies might not be desired or even necessary so far as that very anomalous constituency, the City of London, was concerned. He had risen now to answer the speech of the hon. Member for Ennis (Mr. Kenny), who wished to know if the Government would give an assurance that they would consult the Irish Members in February, or, at any rate, before March, when the Bill would come up for its further stages. He thought that his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board (Sir Charles W. Dilke) had already made that promise. If, however, there was any doubt on the subject, he was ready to say, on the part of the Government, that they certainly would desire, and would take an opportunity in the meantime, of learning what the wishes of the Irish Members were; and he would point out that, in regard to a similar Bill brought in for the boroughs, that was the course actually taken by his right hon. Friend. At the outset 793 the Irish Members were a little divided, and it was doubtful whether the provisions of the Bill would be extended to Ireland; but, in the course of the discussion which took place upon it, it was found to be generally popular, and, ultimately, by general consent, it was made to apply to Ireland as well as to England and Scotland. That being so, he was satisfied that his hon. and learned Friend in charge of the Bill and the Government would be anxious to consult the wishes of the Irish Members if the Bill now went into Committee before March next, when the natural proceedings in Committee would take place.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND
said, he rose for the purpose of emphasizing the statement made by his hon. Friend the Member for Mallow (Mr. O'Brien) that it was wrong to infer that the Irish Members on those Benches were opposed to the Bill. On the contrary, he believed that a great majority of the Party to which he had the honour to belong were altogether favourable, under certain circumstances, to the provisions of the Bill. It must not be understood by any hon. Members opposite, by any Member of Her Majesty's Government, or by the hon. and learned Gentleman who was responsible for the Bill, that the action of the Irish Members was indicative of their opposition to the principle of the Bill. On the contrary, they had not yet had sufficient time to consider the principle of the Bill. As a matter of fact, the Party who sat on those Benches had not had an opportunity of meeting for the purpose of discussing the Bill since it was introduced yesterday; and all they asked was that sufficient time should be given to them so that they might make up their minds as to whether they considered that the measure ought to be extended to Ireland or not. There was one assurance which might be given by some Member of Her Majesty's Government with reference to the Bill, or by the Gentlemen who were responsible for its introduction, which would, he thought, to a very great extent, insure the co-operation of the Irish Members in the progress of the measure; and that was the assurance already asked more than once by hon. Members on those Benches—that a provision would be inserted in the Bill when it came into Committee to provide that the clauses of the Prevention of Crime Act, 794 which now made persons in Ireland liable to arrest for being out after dark, should be suspended altogether in localities where elections were taking place during the time that elections were in the course of procedure. It was quite possible, and he sincerely hoped that it might be so, that the Prevention of Crime Act would cease to exist before this Bill came into operation; but in the event of that Act being still in existence in Ireland when the Bill became law the Irish Members ought to have an assurance to the effect that a clause would be added to the Bill to provide that the "Curfew" Clauses of the Act would be suspended in those districts in Ireland in which elections were taking place while such elections were actually proceeding. He thought that such an assurance would give great satisfaction to the Irish Members; and he trusted that some Member of Her Majesty's Government would feel himself in a position to make it.
§ MR. MOLLOY
said, he was one of those Members who had always supported the views of the hon. and learned Gentleman who had introduced the present Bill into the House, and he was inclined to continue his support in the Committee stage of the Bill; because, while he considered that some Amendments of a valuable character might be introduced, the principle of the Bill was one which appealed strictly to every Member of the House. He might say of his hon. Friends sitting on those Benches that not one of them had ventured, during the short time they had had an opportunity of considering the measure, to declare his opposition to the principle of the Bill. He begged to assure the hon. and learned Member in charge of the Bill that his support of the measure, as far as its principle was concerned, was very sincere indeed. He had supported it from the beginning, and he certainly took strong interest in its provisions. He was quite as anxious to see it passed into law as the hon. and learned Member who had introduced it, and he believed that in doing so he had the support of a good many of his constituents. Even in his own county, where, perhaps, an extension of the hours of polling was less required than in some other constituencies, the Bill would be really a very valuable one. There was, however, one point which he wished to put to hon. Members opposite. There was 795 no use in disguising the matter; but it was best to deal with it in a plain business-like manner, and it could not be denied that they were in an awkward position that night in regard to the Bill. It would, perhaps, be out of Order, and might not be very useful, if he were to trace back the confusion at which the House had arrived to the tone of a certain speech delivered that night by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland against himself as an Irish Member, and against all his hon. Friends who were sitting on those Benches. He most sincerely regretted the tone of the speech. It was not calculated to do the slightest good whatever to any individual, or to any measure, or to conciliate the feeling of any particular part of the House. There was a tone of levity about the speech which had certainly caused him a certain amount of pain; and he would appeal to his hon. and learned Friend who had introduced the Bill to consider the position in which the matter stood. There was no doubt he could get the stage of the Bill which he asked for that night. He took it for granted that any hon. Member who had the big battalions of the Government with him could get what he desired; but, granted that that was so, he would ask the hon. and learned Member whether he thought it would help him in passing into law the principle for which the hon. and learned Member and himself were so strongly in favour? He put that to the hon. and learned Member as a plain business-like matter. He asked him to consider seriously whether the progress of the Bill in its future stages would be promoted, or whether it would be injured by pressing forward the Motion they were discussing that night? He would grant at once that the hon. and learned Member would get this particular stage; but the hon. and learned Member knew, just as well as he did, that a serious opposition sometimes sprung up which not unfrequently began with very small matters. He, therefore, said, as one who was as much interested in the passing of the Bill as the hon. and learned Member was, that the wisest thing he could do, in the interests of the Bill he had introduced, would be to withdraw the Motion now before the House. If the hon. and learned Member would consent to do so, he felt assured that the future progress 796 of the Bill would be more facilitated than it could possibly be by pressing the Motion forward to a successful division that night. He made that appeal to the hon. and learned Member simply, as he had said before, as a business matter, and for no other purpose.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ MR. A. R. D. ELLIOT moved that the Chairman report Progress, and ask leave to sit again on Saturday. He wished to explain that, in fixing the Committee for Saturday, his only object was to have an opportunity of consulting with his Friends near him as to what day in the month of March would be the best for bringing the measure forward again. He had no desire whatever to take any advantage in any way of the Irish Members.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again on Saturday."—(Mr. A. R. D. Elliot.)
§ MR. SEXTON
wished to give Notice that when the Bill went into Committee he would move the insertion of a clause to provide that the "Curfew" provisions of the Prevention of Crime Act should not be in operation in any county, place, or district in which an election took place, on the day of election or on the day preceding.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Saturday.