§ Order for Consideration of Lords' Amendments forthwith read.
§ MR. SEXTON (Sligo, S.)
said, that in regard to the Irish Bill the Lords had gone about its consideration in a very thorough manner, for they had cut it all away except the 1st clause and a short title. They had cut out the clause providing for the payment of the Returning Officers' expenses out of therates; but the Schedule which dealt with the cheapening of expenses would have been very useful. He hoped the House would disagree with the Lords as regarded the clauses struck out.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)
said that, in the absence of his hon. Colleague (Mr. Labouchere), he should not resist any Motion to agree with the Lords' Amendments; but he must say that if it 262 were worth pressing the clause providing for the payment of the Returning Officers' expenses out of the rates at a late peried of the Session at all, he regretted that those who pressed it had not carried the fight to the fullest extent. He had placed on the Paper a clause making candidates, who did not poll one-fourth of the quota electing, responsible for a share of the election expenses; and though he withdrew this in deference to a generally expressed wish to avoid contentious discussion at that stage, he should certainly, if he had the opportunity, renew that, or a like restriction, on improvident candidatures.
§ SIR RICHARD WEBSTER (Isle of Wight)
wished to know what course Her Majesty's Government proposed to take with regard to this Bill? For his own part, he did not think that the House had sufficient information before them to enable them to decide as to what were and what were not proper charges. In 1875 the Schedule was most carefully considered by a Select Committee, and he considered it a proper course that a Committee should inquire into the matter.
§ MR. T. H. BOLTON (St. Pancras, N.)
complained of the want of uniformity in the Returning Officers' charges. He thought that the sums fixed by the Schedules were sufficient to enable the Returning Officers to discharge their duties; and, therefore, he hoped that the House would adhere to them.
§ COLONEL KING-HARMAN (Kent, Isle of Thanet)
said, he understood that the hon. and learned Member for South Londonderry would be satisfied if the Bill were restored to the shape in which it was originally introduced into that House. He hoped that the House would agree to the Lords' Amendments.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
said, that the 2nd and 3rd clauses, throwing the expenses of Returning Officers upon the rates and reducing the maximum charges, had been thrown out by the House of Lords. When the questions were under discussion in the House of Commons an hon. Member on the Front Opposition Bench got up and said the Bill was certain to be thrown out by the House of Lords, which was a monstrous assertion to make. He was present in the House of Lords, and saw on 263 one side a mass of Conservative Peers and very few on the other. Lord Salisbury got up and said he would only allow the Bill to pass if these clauses were struck out. It was making a perfect farce of representative government if the House of Commons was to be threatened that a Bill would be thrown out by the House of Lords, and when it was in that House a Peer was to rise and say it should not pass unless those two clauses were struck out. He was not going to argue that they should disagree with the House of Lords, because at this period that could not be done. The House of Commons were in the position of slaves to the Conservative Leader of the House of Lords, and he thought that a monstrous position. The mode of election concerned the Members of the House of Commons very vitally. They heard a great deal at the present time of long purses being subscribed for the defeat of certain candidates. [Cries of "Question!"]
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, he was merely pointing out that it had been stated in the newspapers that large sums of money were being subscribed by the opponents of the present Government, and that, in the opinion of those gentlemen, it was most essential that they should have money on their side. This Bill, if those clauses had been retained, would have enabled poor men to send poor men to Parliament; it would have enabled electors to choose Representatives for themselves, instead of having Representatives chosen for them. The House of Lords had chosen to alter that, and he left the country to form an opinion as to their conduct.
SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL&c.) (Kirkcaldy,
said, he sympathized with what had been stated, but pointed out that unless the Lords' Amendments were agreed to the Bill would be lost. That he thought was very hard.
§ MR. BRODRICK (Surrey, Guildford)
said, he considered the action of the House of Lords with respect to the Schedule was perfectly justifiable. The country had never been consulted. He doubted whether the country would have ap- 264 proved of the expense of elections being thrown on the rates. He thought it a most questionable thing for hon. Members to transfer a charge amounting to £250,000 from its own shoulders on to those of their constituents on the eve of an election. Moreover, the principal clause in the Bill of which so much had been heard was introduced at the last moment, and that at a very late hour of the night, when the attendance of Members was small. He hoped the Government would adhere to the arrangement which had been arrived at, and take an early opportunity, if in Office next Session, of appointing a Committee to inquire into the charges of Returning Officers.
§ SIR JOSEPH M'KENNA (Monaghan, S.)
said, he regretted that the Schedule had been struck out, but trusted that the Bill, curtailed as it was, would be allowed to pass, because it was better to have half a Bill than none at all.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. STANSFELD) (Halifax)
said that, so far as the Members of the Government in the House of Lords were concerned, in the action they had taken they had submitted to superior force. It was not a fair inference on the part of hon. Members to suppose that they were convinced by the arguments of those who excluded the Schedule from the Bill. But the real difficulty was that there was no time for conflict with the other House; and if the Bill was not accepted in its present state it would not pass into law at all this Session. As far as Great Britain was concerned, there was not a case to press against the House of Lords. The simple Bill originally introduced had been enlarged in its scope by the insertion of a clause; and he was not prepared to say that the House of Lords had exceeded their legislative rights in rejecting these particular provisions. He suggested to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, however, whether some compromise might not be arrived at as to the scale of Irish Returning Officers' charges being treated differently from those connected with England and Scotland.
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR (Donegal, E.)
said, that any undue insistance on the restoration of this Bill to the condition in which it previously left the House of Commons would certainly imperil its passing into law this year. If the Bill was desired, therefore, it was necessary that they should not prove unduly obstinate on the present occasion. Much labour had been devoted to the drafting of the measure, and he appealed to hon. Members to assist in allowing so much of the Bill as referred to Ireland to pass.
MB. W. H. SMITH (Strand, Westminster)
said, that, speaking for his Friends on the Front Opposition Bench, he should have been glad if it were possible at that time to arrive at any compromise which would legitimately reduce the cost of elections; but, unfortunately, there was no time for any such compromise. In the House of Lords on Tuesday, it was, he believed, stated on the part of the Government there that if the Bill came back to the House of Lords consisting of anything more than the appeal for the taxation of charges the Members of the Government present pledged themselves not to press their Lordships to accept the Amendments. That engagement having been entered into in the other House by the Government, he thought it was hopeless to expect that any compromise could be arranged or settled now. He would appeal to hon. Gentlemen whether it would not be better, in all the circumstances, to stand by the arrangement made in the House of Lords, and leave the Schedule as to rates to a future Parliament? It had been urged, with considerable force, that sufficient time had not been given for the consideration of the Schedule. Members of Parliament themselves had an interest in seeing that the scale should not be excessive, and no effort should be wanting on the part of those with whom he acted to secure that result in an early Session.
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY (Mr. HENRY H. FOWLER) (Wolverhampton, E.)
said, he agreed entirely with the very sensible remarks made by the right hon. Member for the Strand (Mr. W. H. Smith). They were in a position in which time was absolutely their master. The House of Lords 266 said they would throw out the Bill altogether unless it was reduced to the Appeal Clause. He sympathized very much with his Irish Friends as to this Schedule, and if he might advise them it would be not to mix the Irish Schedule in future with the English scale of charges. The whole scale in Ireland ought to be at a much lower rate. They had better take the Bill as it came down from the Lords—half a loaf was better than no bread. Enormous injustice was done at the last Election in consequence of there being no appeal from the taxing master. He, therefore, thought they should secure the advantages of the appeal, and it would be the absolute duty of the next Parliament to have a Committee appointed at the very commencement to consider on proper evidence the whole question of the Returning Officers' charges.
§ MR. MOLLOY (King's Co., Birr)
observed that the appeal was absolutely worthless. He thought the most dignified course would be to throw out the Lords' Amendments altogether.
§ DR. COMMINS (Roscommon, S.)
said, he agreed with his hon. Friend. The Appeal Clause would be worthless. In many cases the cost of the appeal would be more than the amount in dispute.
§ MR. SEXTON (Sligo, S.)
hoped he might, by the indulgence of the House, be allowed to say he had been in communication with his hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Derry (Mr. T. M. Healy), and he was disposed to take the view that it was better to have the Appeal Clauses than nothing.
§ SIR JOHN SWINBURNE (Staffordshire, Lichfield)
denied that the Bill had been sprung upon the country, as stated in the House of Lords, and as had just been stated from the Tory Benches by the hon. Member for the Guildford Division of Surrey (Mr. Brodrick). Night after night the debate on the Bill came on, but was adjourned to suit the convenience of the Tory Members opposite, and to allow of the question being thoroughly debated on both sides of the House; and it was monstrous now to declare that the House had been taken by surprise and the subject sprung on the country.
§ Lords' Amendments considered, and agreed to.