§ MR. GREGORY
asked the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether he is aware of the difficulty that must arise in carrying out the registration of persons entitled to vote in counties under the new franchise, unless the operations of the clerks of the peace and overseers in the different districts are facilitated by the early passing of the Registration Bill; and, whether he can give an opportunity for the consideration of that measure as reported from the Select Committee?
I am quite aware that the hon. Member opposite has very good foundation for putting this Question, and we are most anxious not to lose a moment in proceeding with the Registration Bill—I mean any moment such as is fairly at our disposal for the purpose. In truth, nothing but the consideration of that urgency would justify our ceasing to proceed with the Report of the Parliamentary Elections (Redistribution) Bill. What we propose is, to go on to-night with the Irish and Scotch Registration Bills, with a good hope that we may be able to dispose of those measures at the present Sitting. If we should not so dispose of them to-night, we shall go forward with them on Mon- 1325 day, and do what may remain necessary so far as the Committee stage is concerned. But there was an arrangement last night that, if it were not an inconveniently late hour, the Report of the Vote of Credit should be brought on. Probably it may be wished that that should not be long postponed. The arrangement failed last night in consequence of the prolongation of the debate on the Financial Statement of my right hon. Friend; and therefore we should be quite willing to adhere to the same arrangement for Monday night, and not proceed with the consideration of the Registration Bill later than 10 o'clock, in order to bring up the Report on the Vote of Credit. After that we should wish to proceed at the earliest moment with the English Registration Bill, the urgency being very great. Indeed, I am informed that the operation of registration cannot be efficiently performed if there is any serious delay in the passing of those Bills.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
I do not quite understand what the right hon. Gentleman contemplates in regard to the English Registration Bill. I understood him to say that if the Scotch and Irish Registration Bills were finished to-night, the English Registration Bill would be taken first on Monday, with the intention of suspending the discussion upon it at 10 o'clock. But supposing the Scotch Bill, which stands second today, is not finished to-night, will it be taken first on Monday? If so, does the right hon. Gentleman propose to take the English Registration Bill after the Scotch Bill on Monday, or will he be disposed to take the Report of the Vote of Credit?
Certainly; we shall be very glad—and we believe it to be in the public interest, if it should be generally satisfactory to the House—to proceed with all the three Registration Bills in succession in the stage of Committee. At the same time, we desire to consult the convenience of the House as to the mode of proceeding.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
It will be very inconvenient if there is no definite statement as to what is really to be done on Monday; because, when the Committee on the Irish Registration Bill arrived at a certain decision last Friday, the Prime Minister moved to report Progress on the ground of the 1326 very important change made in the Bill, stating that he desired to have time to consider the matter, and to convey to the House the intention of Her Majesty's Government. That was an important announcement; and this evening the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant has informed us that the statement will not be made until Monday, as I understood, upon the English Registration Bill. At any rate, my hon. Friend the Member for South Devon (Sir Massey Lopes) has given Notice that he will raise on the English Registration Bill precisely the same question which was considered of such grave importance by the Prime Minister when decided against the Government on the Irish Registration Bill. All we ask for is full notice when the English Registration Bill is really to be taken, in order that so important a matter may be fairly discussed.
I have said already that we wish to consult the convenience of the House; and we are very desirous, if the House should be so disposed, to go forward with these measures. It is quite true, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, that I deemed it necessary to take time, in consequence of the vote which was given the other night on the Irish Registration Bill. We have taken time to examine the matter, and we have observed what happened in 1868, and we are prepared to make a proposal which we believe will be equitable and suited to the circumstances of the case. I apprehend, as regards the reference lately made to the 6th clause, that that clause having been amended in Committee on the Bill cannot be again taken up. We must go forward with the clauses, and anything to be done with the Irish Bill must be done on the Report. Should the statement of the Government not be satisfactory to the House at large on Monday, we should certainly make no attempt to force the English Registration Bill on that day, but would postpone it till Tuesday.
§ SIR HERBERT MAXWELL
asked after what hour the Scotch Registration Bill would not be taken that night? He would remind the House that the Bill was only circulated on the morning of the day on which it was read a second time, and that a promise was given that an opportunity would be 1327 given in Committee for discussing the various points arising.
§ MR. BUCHANAN
asked whether, if the Bill came on that night, the Government would defer taking the new clauses, which were very important, and of which the Lord Advocate had placed no fewer than six on the Paper that morning?
said, the Lord Advocate would be better able than he was to answer those Questions. He had had no communication with his right hon. and learned Friend on the subject. At the same time, he understood there was a general unity of feeling prevailing with regard to the Scotch Bill, and if that was so they should be disposed to go forward with it. If that was not so, however, he did not think the Lord Advocate would press the matter unduly at an inconvenient hour.
MR. J. LOWTHER
Do I rightly understand the right hon. Gentleman to state that in the event of any matter of controversy arising on the English Registration Bill it will be placed as the first Order on Tuesday?
That is so. On Monday we will not proceed with it if our statement should not be satisfactory to the House.
§ SIR HERBERT MAXWELL
said, that, seeing the Lord Advocate now in his place, he would ask whether it was the intention of the right hon. and learned Gentleman to proceed with the Scotch Bill at any hour that night; or whether, considering the understanding given out on the occasion of the second reading, that due opportunity would be given, for discussing the points that might arise, it would be postponed?
THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. B. BALFOUR)
said, that if there was anything really contentious in the Bill, of which he was not aware, they should be glad to defer to the wishes of the House. He did not believe it would be found that there was anything contentious.
THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. B. BALFOUR)
No, Sir. The proposal simply adopts the words of the English Registration Act. It was introduced in the English Act in 1878, and we merely propose to apply the same to Scotland.
§ [No reply.]