§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
, in rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that this duty would 1027 not impose upon him the necessity of delivering anything in the shape of a long speech. He would begin by saying frankly that he and his hon. Friends laboured under a disadvantage in presenting the Bill to the House, inasmuch as it was not at present in the hands of hon. Members. He would admit that, in the case of an ordinary Bill, that might be a fatal objection to proceeding with the second reading; but he submitted to hon. Members that, in regard to this Bill, such an objection was not a fatal one. What was the history of the Bill? Time after time it had been introduced in the House, and over and over again its principle had been admitted. Last year, when it was introduced, it was greeted with the well-nigh universal approval of the House, and it commanded the support of Irish Members of nearly every section. The hon. Member for Tyrone (Mr. Macartney) had criticized several parts of the Bill; but it was finally, upon second reading, carried unanimously. It was amended in that House in Committee, and Amendments were made in accordance with the wishes of the Government, so that, finally, the Bill was moulded in such a manner as to meet with the unanimous approval of that Assembly. He would now appeal to the Government not to press a technical objection against the present Bill, because it was not in the hands of Members. In the eyes of the Government it should not be considered a fatal objection, because they themselves last year expressed, in an emphatic manner, their urgent desire to get this Bill as it stood passed into law. The people of Ireland would regard that declaration on their part with great scepticism if they now opposed the second reading on the merely technical ground that the Bill had not been printed and placed in the hands of Members. The Bill was identical in every particular with the measure which left the House of Commons last year with the approval of all sections of the House. He therefore did not think it necessary to dwell upon its principle, which had been explained over and over again. It introduced into the election of Poor Law Guardians the system of election by ballot, to which there could be no valid objection, as the system had been already adopted in Parliamentary elec- 1028 tions. It also provided for the abolition of proxy voting, and the diminution of the relative number of ex-officio Guardians on the Poor Law Boards. The system, as it had existed up to the present time in Ireland, had been worked in such a way that the landed interest in the country were able to exercise an influence which was neither right nor just. First of all, by the system of open voting, the landed interest of the country was able to exercise an undue influence on elections; secondly, by the system of proxy voting, a number of absentee landlords were enabled to hand over their proxies in a bundle to their agents, who were allowed to fill them up as they choose, and in this way to exercise a baleful and unjust influence in elections. By the system which prevailed in Ireland the ex officio Guardians formed at least one-half of the Boards of Guardians throughout the country; while, by the system which prevailed in England, the proportion of ex offiico Guardians was only one-third. He could assign no reason why the proportion should be larger in Ireland than it was at present in England. He ventured to appeal to the Government, especially after the action which they had been obliged to take—he presumed in the interests of their Party—in regard to Irish affairs, not to press a mere technical objection to the Bill; but having declared their warm approval of its principle, and their indignation because it was defeated in "another place," to assent to the second reading of the measure. He had felt the great disadvantage under which the right hon. Gentleman the new Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) had laboured in being obliged to remain mute for the last few days. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman's first speech, in which he stated that an odious official for Ireland had been reinstated, was calculated to make a bad impression. He (Mr. J. Redmond) would, therefore, be glad if the right hon. Gentleman would take the opportunity of mitigating this bad impression by allowing this Bill to be read a second time, and he would now move that it be so read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. John Redmond.)1029
§ MR. ELTON
said, that if the Bill was in the House, he would be the last to propose any technical objection to it, seeing that it was discussed upon a former occasion when introduced into the House by the hon. Member who had just spoken (Mr. John Redmond). It was, however, quite obvious that there were a number of important matters to be considered in connection with the Bill which were not before the House; and he would, therefore, move the adjournment of the debate.
§ MR. WARTON
said, he rose for the purpose of seconding the Motion. He had called the attention of the House last Session to the practice of bringing in a Bill without its being printed, which, he thought, most dangerous and objectionable. He was ready to take the word of the hon. Member for New Ross (Mr. John Redmond), that this Bill was identical with the Bill of last Session; but, as a matter of principle, measures ought not be read without the House knowing what they were reading, and they ought to be careful not to establish dangerous precedents. Moreover, the House was put in a false and even ridiculous position by being asked to read what they had not actually before them.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Elton.)
§ COLONEL NOLAN
, in supporting the Motion for the second reading, said, that by the happy accident of the early close of the discussion on the Address, the Irish Members had obtained a chance of bringing on the Bill that day, and he hoped that the Government would show itself in earnest by supporting them upon so extremely important a measure, which had been passed almost unanimously by that House, and thrown out by the House of Lords last Session in company with the Franchise Bill. The hon. and learned Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton) urged that they ought not to read the Bill until it had been printed; but he (Colonel Nolan) presumed that as soon as it was in print the hon. and learned Member would, as usual, immediately put a block on it. After the second reading, Irish Members would undertake not to press the Committee stage until the measure had been printed If it was absurd to 1030 read a Bill before it was printed, it was an absurdity which was committed every day, for Bills were always read a first time before they were in the hands of Members.
§ MR. GIBSON
said, that the hon. and gallant Member for Galway County (Colonel Nolan) had called on the Government and the House to show the people of Ireland that they were in earnest about that Bill; but the hon. Members who were in charge of it had not shown that they were themselves particularly in earnest about it, inasmuch as though that was the 14th day of the Session, the Bill was not in print. If they had been they would have had it printed before this. It was impossible to ask the House to proceed with legislation when they had not a single line of the Bill before them, and having merely to rely on what occurred in debate last Session at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning. It was not quite correct to say that the Bill last Session left that House having the unanimous approval of all sections of the House. No doubt, some of its important provisions were not then objected to; but there were many other provisions contained in it, some introduced on Amendments, which were seriously and strongly opposed, and they would probably be as strongly opposed again. It was unreasonable to expect the House to proceed with the discussion of a Bill with which they were not acquainted; and it was nothing to the purpose to tell them that before its next stage they would have the Bill before them. They could not now proceed gravely to its second reading without setting a most serious and lamentable precedent. He did not disparage the importance of the measure, or the way in which it had been presented by the hon. Member for New Ross; and he should himself be ready to discuss it with perfect fairness whenever it came properly before the House; but he was not in a position to do that now, and he presumed that those who were responsible for the conduct of the Business in the House would join him in supporting the Motion for Adjournment.
said, that, when a similar Bill was brought forward last Session, they were told that it was identical with a measure which had been proposed in the previous year. Nevertheless, there were several rather serious 1031 differences between those two Bills, and the opponents of the second reading were then able to point those differences out. But they were not in a position to do the same now, the present Bill not being in print. It was all very well to take things on trust; but that was not the way to do business either in the House or out of it. In a matter of this importance it was necessary that they should have the Bill before them. He supported the adjournment, contending that the Prime Minister had stated that no Business would be taken between the conclusion of the Address and the second reading of the Franchise Bill. Had he (Mr. Macartney) been present when the Bill was before the House last Session, he would have opposed it tooth and nail. There were hardly any Members of the Conservative Party present to discuss the question; because, on asking at the Vote Office, they had learnt that the Bill was not printed. Seeing, therefore, that they had gone away with the conviction that it would not come on that evening, it would be most unfair to proceed with the discussion now.
§ SIR JOSEPH M'KENNA
said, it was useless for any hon. Member to pretend that he was unacquainted with the provisions of the Bill, for he (Sir Joseph M'Kenna) held in his hand a copy which had been taken from the file which contained the Bill as it was sent up to the House of Lords last Session. He, therefore, hoped it would be permitted to proceed.
§ MR. CAMPBELL - BANNERMAN
said, that he sincerely and deeply regretted the circumstances under which the second reading of the Bill had been moved, nor could he well see why they had been allowed to arise. The Bill had been introduced some days ago, and if it was an exact reproduction of the Bill before the House of Lords last Session, it would have been all the easier on that account to have had it printed. In spite of this, not only was it not in the hands of hon. Members, but it was not yet in the hands of the printer; at least, it was not when he last made inquiries. This was a Bill which the Government regarded with not only a great, but with a benevolent, interest. They were in favour of the main principles of the Bill; they had supported them last Session, and were prepared to do so again; and it would 1032 have given him personally and the Government the most sincere pleasure to have supported it at this and at every other stage, so far as they found the Bill of this Session carrying out the provisions of the Bill of last Session. But, as far as his experience went in that House, and it went back a good many years, he believed it to be the invariable practice of the House to refuse its assent to the second reading of Bills which it had not seen, and which had not been printed. There might, possibly, be one or two exceptions to that rule; but, if there were, it would be found that they were in the case of small Bills of one or two clauses, and not in the case of a measure of such a large and comprehensive character as this. He must confess that, in his opinion, that rule was a salutary and proper one; and, as a general principle, he thought that the House would agree that they should not be called upon to pass the second reading of this Bill, which they had not seen. He was sincerely anxious that this Bill should pass, as his Predecessor had been, and the Government were themselves so disposed to meet the views of the hon. Gentleman who proposed it, that they would not themselves have thought of raising this objection. It had, however, been raised, and it was in accordance with the almost invariable rule of the House. In these circumstances, he had to consider what was the invariable practice of the House with regard to Bills of this importance, and he must most reluctantly say that he could not support the Motion for the immediate second reading of the Bill. The blame was on the shoulders of those who were in charge of the Bill. It was a Bill that would have been very easy to get printed, and at the time there was no pressure on the printers.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, the hon. Member for Tyrone (Mr. Macartney) had used a childish argument. It was perfectly apparent to anybody who looked at the Votes that morning, that the Poor Law Guardians (Ireland) Bill would be reached, and therefore there was no excuse for the absence of the Tory Party. He (Mr. Sexton) had noticed that fewer Tories were present on more important occasions. There was a certain convenience apparent now for the second time in the recent changes in the Office of 1033 Chief Secretary for Ireland. It would have been very difficult for the right hon. Gentleman who last held that Office (Mr. Trevelyan) to have made the speech which had just been delivered. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) seemed to be ignorant of the fact that the Government accepted last Session not merely the main principle on the second reading, but in Committee, and on the stage of Report, the Government went much further, and assented to every clause, every word, every letter, and every comma in the Bill. There were several copies of the Bill of last Session which could have been seen, and that Bill was identical with the present one, and it had the full support of Irish Members, irrespective of the side of the House they sat upon. The fact of its not being printed was a matter of the purest inadvertence, and he was sorry to see the Government taking advantage of it. He also regretted, for the sake of the reputation of the Chief Secretary for Ireland, that he had been so ungenerous as to shift the blame for its rejection from the shoulders of the Government to the shoulders of the Irish Party. The Irish Party could not possibly have foreseen a few days ago that the Bill would come on that evening. This was rather an unpromising beginning for the right hon. Gentleman. It was very unfortunate that, on the second or third day of the appearance of the Chief Secretary for Ireland, he should take the course which he had adopted. He first opened his official career by restoring to official employment a most obnoxious person; and, in the second place, he endeavoured to shift on to the Irish Members the blame of causing the rejection of a Bill, the value of which was admitted by the Government with which he was connected. The right hon. Gentleman stated in effect that he was in a dilemma; and, indeed, he was to be commiserated with, for he accepted a most difficult Office, and yet, on the second day of his appearance, he confessed that he was in a dilemma. That being so, he (Mr. Sexton) believed that the day was not far postponed when he would be in a position of disaster.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
, in supporting the Motion for the adjournment, said, he had never heard a more unfair speech than the one just delivered, and he must, therefore, take the oppor- 1034 tunity of stating his opinion that the right hon. Gentleman the present Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) deserved to receive at least a little consideration and fair play. He (Mr. Mitchell Henry) would just refer to one point that had been alluded to on the other side of the House. Mention had been made of the re-appointment of Mr. George Bolton, an incident which he, for one—
§ MR. SPEAKER
The Question before the House is the adjournment of the debate, and not the appointment of Mr. George Bolton. I must ask the hon. Member to adhere to the Question.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
said, he should not have alluded to that subject except in reference to what fell from the hon. Gentleman opposite, and all he wished to say about it was that he did not support all the acts of the Government, or of the right hon. Gentleman who lately assumed the Office. He had frequently stated elsewhere and in the House of Commons that, when the Irish Members endeavoured to get legislation through, they should conform to the requirements and Rules of the House. The requirements of the House must be adhered to. That was not the first time that Irish Members had failed to get their Bills printed; and it was their own fault if they could not proceed with this measure, owing to their not having complied with the Forms of the House. Last year, in the case of the Labourers' (Ireland) Bill, a similar thing took place, and, whilst not saying a word against the measure now in question, he desired to express the opinion generally to which he had now given utterance.
§ MR. R. POWER
said, he could not congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) on the championship which he had just won. He (Mr. R. Power) was disappointed with the speech of the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and he regretted that instead of taking, as he had, a technical objection, he had not frankly and generously allowed the second reading. It was nothing less than absurd that hon. Gentleman should get up and say that they were perfectly ignorant of the provisions of the Bill. It was the same Bill as was before the House last year, and everybody knew what its principles were. They had a limited number of copies of the Bill. They could explain the principles 1035 and the provisions of the Bill in a short space of time, and he would, therefore, appeal to the Government to yield the point, and permit the Bill to be read a second time.