HC Deb 12 March 1886 vol 303 cc729-39

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 1 (Short title).

MR. BRODRICK (Surrey, Guildford)

Mr. Courtney, I beg to move that you do report Progress. I think, considering the importance of the measure, and having regard to the number of Amendments on the Paper, it would be well if the Government were to see their way to afford an opportunity of bringing this Bill on at an hour when we can properly discuss it. There is no hostility on this side of the House to the principle of some of the Amendments, or to the principle of the measure; but we feel that it deals with some questions which will certainly raise a prolonged discussion, and one which we cannot hope to finish at this late hour of the night. I am sure we shall all be glad if the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary (Mr. John Morley) will undertake to use his influence with Her Majesty's Government to induce them to give some facilities for the consideration of the Bill at a reasonable hour—say, not later than 12 o'clock. I have no wish that the Bill should be postponed sine die; but I feel that if it be pushed on at this hour of the night the result cannot be satisfactory either to those who support it, or to those who have Amendments to propose.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Brodrick.)


I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Brodrick) that there are a great number of important Amendments on the Paper, and that this is rather a late hour to bring on the discussion. No doubt the discussion will occupy a very considerable time; therefore, so far as the Government are concerned, we are quite willing to acquiesce in the postponement of the debate. At the present moment it is impossible for me to name a day when the discussion can be resumed; but I think I can promise, on behalf of the Government, that we will do our best to find an occasion on which the Bill can be suitably considered. Of course, I cannot promise that it will be made the first Order; but it shall be brought on at a comparatively early hour.

MR. SEXTON (Sligo, S.)

I think it is well I should say that the Irish Members strongly object to the adjournment of the debate. We sat here for hours last night, through the debate upon the Railway and Canal Traffic Bill—sat here until 2 o'clock this morning—in the hope that this Bill might be taken. I am bound to say that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary (Mr. John Morley) also sat here with great patience and self-denial. The hour became too late to take the Bill; but it is now an hour earlier. I regret the Motion made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Guildford Division of Surrey (Mr. Brodrick), for I can see no reason for it. I ask the Committee to remember that the second reading of this Bill was passed without a division. There was almost perfect unanimity. The hon. Gentleman himself admits there was unanimity of opinion concerning it, and how he reconciles that admission with the belief that there will be a pro- longed discussion upon the clauses is more than I can fathom. Besides, his interest appears to be new-born, because the solitary Amendment on the Paper in his name only appeared this morning. I trust the Committee will consent to take the Bill now. Later in the Session we shall, no doubt, have matters of the greatest importance to occupy our attention.

MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)

The hon. Gentleman the Member for South Sligo (Mr. Sexton) must recollect that it is quite possible to assent to the second reading of a Bill, and yet feel that the Bill requires very long and careful discussion in Committee. One of the proposals of the late Government with regard to the Business of the House—a proposal which it is understood the present Government are prepared to consider very favourably—was that all contested Business should cease at 12 o'clock. I do not think it is at all reasonable to commence this important Business at 1 o'clock in the morning. Hon. Gentlemen must recollect that, after all, this Bill has in its progress up to the present time been singularly fortunate. It has been read a second time, and the Session is still young. It has reached a stage when it is impossible to block it; and therefore, if the adjournment is carried, I cannot see that there will be any difficulty in bringing on the discussion at an early date. Hon. Gentlemen have the pledge of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. John Morley) that the Government will do their very best to bring the Bill on at a reasonable hour; and, that being so, I hope no objection will be raised on the part of hon. Members from Ireland to the Motion to report Progress.


If both Parties are agreed as to the desirability of an adjournment of the debate the Government will offer no opposition. At the same time, as we are not able to hold out any definite prospect of the renewal of the discussion, I think the Committee might go on for another hour, and see how it gets on. I hope hon. Members below the Gangway will not press the Bill on to any undue extent.


I cannot believe that the right hon. Gentleman (Sir William Harcourt) was in the House when the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. John Morley) spoke. We heard nothing from the Chief Secretary of these alternatives; we heard nothing of these precedent conditions to the acceptance of the Motion for Adjournment. We understood the Chief Secretary was prepared, on behalf of the Government, to agree to the Motion to report Progress, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not recede from the position he so categorically took up.


I spoke after consultation with my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary.

MR. JOHNSTON (Belfast, S.)

I had a Notice on the Paper for a Return, but it was blocked by the hon. Member for South Sligo (Mr. Sexton). I shall certainly insist upon dividing on the Motion to report Progress.

VISCOUNT CRANBORNE (Lancashire, N.E., Darwen)

The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir William Harcourt) seems to be very fond of throwing over his Colleagues. Early in the Session, upon the Employers' Liability Bill, he stepped in exactly as he has done to night, and reversed what a subordinate Member of the Government had announced.


There are no subordinate Members of the Government.


That makes matters all the worse. The Chief Secretary for Ireland announced his assent to the Motion to report Progress; but down came the Chancellor of the Exchequer, threw over his Colleague, and seemed surprised that we find fault with him for behaving in such a manner.

MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)

I have only one remark to make. I think the statement just made by the hon. Member for South Belfast (Mr. Johnston) is one of the most extraordinary I ever heard. We heard the other day a speech from the hon. Gentleman in favour of the Labourers' Act, and now we find that because a Return of his is blocked by the hon. Member for South Sligo (Mr. Sexton), he is going to take revenge by going to a division, and by destroying, perhaps, the only chance which we may have this Session of passing the Bill. If the hon. Member thinks he is going to pose before the labourers of Ulster as their friend, and then blocks this Bill, the labourers of Ulster will know of it.


I regret the species of intimidation which is practised by hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway. The Committee have every right to discuss this question in the interests of this country, as well as of Ireland, at a proper time of night; and this lifting of a sword, so to speak, over the heads of hon. Members from Ulster, is one of the most monstrous attempts to intimidate this Committee that can be made. I really must be allowed to say a word as to the action of the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir William Harcourt). We are quite familiar with the system which the present Government pursue. One of them enters into an arrangement, and then another comes forward and breaks it up. When the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary (Mr. John Morley) has pledged the Government to use their exertions to bring this Bill on at a reasonable hour, and when the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was not present—[Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT: I was present.] Then I am still more surprised at the utter disrespect he has shown for his own Colleague. We really do expect that the right hon. Gentleman will show some degree of respect for the under takings which have been arrived at. Here we are, not one word of hostility to the measure having been said up to the present; but I must point out that if the Motion to report Progress is made the occasion for a long and angry discussion, the only effect will be that every Irish Bill from now to the end of the Session will be blocked the very moment it is put on the Paper. We have foregone the right which we might have exercised, had we been desirous of doing so, of blocking this Bill. Under these circumstances, and considering the good feeling shown by the Committee upon the subject, I do hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will reconsider his demand. His refusal will only lead to a protracted discussion on the question of postponement, which may occupy the whole of the time he proposes to give to-night to the consideration of the measure.

Mr. HOLMES (Dublin University)

I wish to appeal to hon. Members below the Gangway not to press this Bill forward to-night. I laboured as hard as anyone in the House last Session in regard to this subject, and I regard the present measure as containing some very valuable improvements of the Labourers' Acts; but, on the other hand, I think that some of its provisions require very deliberate discussion. I would, therefore, suggest that, as it is now 1 o'clock, and as the discussion of the clauses of the Bill will take some hours, we should be allowed to report Progress. If hon. Members go on now, they may not have concluded their labours by 5 o'clock in the morning; and I do not think they will desire to adopt such a course as that on the present occasion. We have the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. John Morley) that he will bring the Bill on upon a Government night, and I will promise hon. Members every assistance in my power towards bringing it on at an early hour. It would be unreasonable, under the circumstances, to insist upon the Committee continuing at this hour. I am anxious that this matter should be fully and freely discussed; but I think this is not the hour to discuss it.

MR. JOHNS (Warwick, Nuneaton)

I trust that the Committee will excuse me for rising to discuss this matter—


The hon. Member must confine his remarks to the Question that I now report Progress.


It appears to me that the majority of the Committee want to go on. No one has spoken against continuing, except the son of an Irish landlord who is hostile to the Bill altogether. I have to thank the right hon. and learned Member the late Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Holmes) for his support; but I cannot understand how it is that he is willing to go on at 2 o'clock in the morning on some other occasion, but is unwilling to go on at 1 o'clock this morning.


It appears to me that it is unreasonable to us to go on to-night. This Bill affects the interests of a large class of Irishmen whom we represent, and therefore we wish to have an opportunity of airing their grievances before the Committee. I do not mind the hour; but I do not think we can fairly ask hon. Gentlemen opposite to keep a House to discuss this matter at such an hour. I think, however, that we might expect the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary (Mr. John Morley) to be a little more explicit in his promise as to bringing the Bill on on a future occasion. The clauses will not take long to discuss if the Government can find a night; and, for my part, I am only too anxious that the matter should be threshed out without delay. If the hon. Member for the Guildford Division of Surrey (Mr. Brodrick) wishes to put obstacles in the way of the Bill being discussed, all I can say is that the Ulster Members are perfectly prepared to discuss it at any time, although we prefer that it should come on at an earlier hour.

Question put.

The Committee divided: — Ayes 75; Noes 132: Majority 57. — (Div. List, No. 30.)

Clause agreed to.

Clause 2 (Construction of Act).

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Mr. TOMLINSON (Preston)

I think really that we have reached an hour at which it is desirable that we should report Progress. I do not think that there is any objection to the taking of the clause which has been proposed; but I think that we are now arriving at that part of the Bill which deserves considerable discussion. I, therefore, beg to move that you do report Progress.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Tomlinson.)

MR. SEXTON (Sligo, S.)

intimated that, after having taken the sense of the Committee, he and his Friends would not now oppose the Motion.


The Committee knows perfectly well that if a certain number of hon. Members in this Committee insist upon continuing to repeat Motions for the adjournment at 20 minutes to 1 o'clock, it is simply wasting the time of the House to resist them. Already more than half-an-hour has been wasted which might have been devoted to transacting the Business of the country; and, therefore, I cannot recommend the Committee to waste their time in discussing Motion after Motion of this character.

MR. BRODRICK (Surrey, Guildford)

The waste of time has been wholly due to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself. In deference to his usual Friends below the Gangway here, he chooses to throw over his own Colleague, and the result is that he finds hon. Members are not inclined to submit to such a course. Besides, it appears from the division just taken that we are in no less a minority than we usually are; and, therefore, we have a right to ask that this Bill shall not be proceeded with at this late hour. The waste of time is solely due to the attitude of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and I must say that, if this is a sample of the waste of time which is to go on as long as the right hon. Gentleman remains in charge of the Business of this House, the result is likely to be serious. I think that hon. Members from Ireland will do well to enter into communication with the Government as to bringing on this measure at a proper time; and, in the meantime, I beg to support the Motion that you, Sir, report Progress.

MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)

All I am desirous of pointing out is what the real nature of the proceedings we are now witnessing is. This Bill is one on which there was never any intention to hold much discussion. There is no argument at all before the Committee why we should not have gone on doing what we could until 2 o'clock. So far as I can observe, even amongst the hon. Members returned from Ulster, a large section are opposed to this obstruction—for that is the only name it can be called by. In point of fact, it is really worth observation that of the Members from Ireland there are not above three who are not willing and anxious to go on with this Bill. It is perfectly absurd to make observations about difference of opinion between the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland and the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We know what that difference of opinion is. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, who has always shown an anxiety to meet the views of the Irish Members—["Hear, hear!"] English Members cheer that in an ironical manner; but I do not think it is any disgrace for an Irish Chief Secretary to attempt to please the people of Ireland. At any rate, I do not think that the present Chief Secretary will think it a disgrace. The right hon. Gentleman is always considerate; but I think he has stated what is somewhat beyond his powers. He is not the Leader of the House of Commons. He said he would endeavour to bring on this Bill on some future day at an early hour. Then, probably, after consulting with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he came to the conclusion that it would be outside his power to do this—or, at any rate, that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and that we had better go on with the Amendments as quickly as we can. What happens? Why, an English Member who has no real standing at all in this matter—for the Bill does not apply to either England, Scotland, or Wales—a Member who has no standing in the matter, except one that we thoroughly understand, who sits here to represent not his constituents, but his class in Ireland, comes forward to do what that class has systematically done, not only here but in Ireland—namely, obstruct measures intended for the benefit of that country. It is merely for the sake of pointing out the nature of this obstruction that I have said these few words.


I wish to say one word with regard to my statement assenting to the Motion of the hon. Gentleman opposite. I assumed—and I had reason for assuming—that the hon. Gentleman had understood from Irish Members that the adjournment would not be disagreeable to them. That being the case, I said Her Majesty's Government would accept the adjournment. I said more, and I repeat it now—namely, that if an adjournment takes place, Her Majesty's Government will do their best to bring the Bill on on an early day and at as early an hour as possible. It might have to be a late hour; but it would, at any rate, be the earliest hour possible.

Mr. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)

I hope the few words that have fallen from the right hon. Gentleman will have thrown a calming influence over the Committee. I think the Leader of the House indulged in a very superfluous attack upon us on this side of the House when he said that we desired to obstruct the Business of the House. [Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT: I did not say so.] I was amused when I heard the Irish Members describe a Motion for the adjournment of the House at half-past 1 in the morning, as "Obstruction."


I said, obstruction of particular measures.


Obstruction of particular measures is, of course, obstruction. I would make this proposition to the Committee—that we should proceed with the Bill until we have disposed of Clause 2, and that we should then stop before we come to controversial matter. That, combined with the promise of the Government that they will find a day when this Bill can be brought on at a reasonable hour, ought to satisfy hon. Gentlemen that there is no desire to obstruct the Bill.

MR. SEXTON (Sligo, S.)

It is useless for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to persist in the face of so many Gentlemen opposed to proceeding with this Bill to-night. It is useless, also, I think, to characterize what has taken place. Every Member of the House must have his opinion of it, and will not need any statement from me to educate him. Here is a Bill that is one of urgency in Ireland, because it deals with matters which are taking place every day there. It affects the homes and the welfare of the labouring population of Ireland; therefore the vast majority of Irish Members are anxious to go on with it. If we are compelled to submit to-night—no; not compelled, for they are not strong enough to compel us—but if we do submit, I trust the Government will find us such reasonable opportunity of dealing with the Bill some other night as will place us beyond the reach of such an attack as has now been made.


I am not sufficiently well aware of the engagements for next week to be able to fix a particular day. I can only say that we will endeavour to carry out the undertaking of my right hon. Friend (Mr. John Morley) as well as we can. I cannot go further than that at present.


Then we will pass Clause 2.


Under the circumstances I withdraw the Motion to report Progress.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 3 (Amendment of 46 & 47 Vict., c. 60, s. 5, as to certificate of sanitary offices).

Motion made, and Question, "That Clause 3 stand part of the Bill."

Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again,"—(Mr. Johnston,) put and agreed to.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.

Forward to