§ (Colonel King-Harmon, Mr. Solicitor General for Ireland.)
§ [BILL 291.] COMMITTEE.
§ Order for Committee read, and discharged.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Bill be committed to a Select Committee of Seven Members, Four to be nominated by the House, and Three by the Committee of Selection."—(Colonel King-Harman.)
§ MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
It is somewhat curious, if this is a necessary stage, that when this Bill was before the House on the second reading no Member of the Government seemed to be aware of it. If there is any Rule of the House that requires this to be done I should like to be referred to it, or upon what authority this course of procedure rests. I observe there has lately been an unusual development of official vigilance in regard to these Bills, more especially those that have reference to Belfast, and I have had to face impediments at every stop from official action, such as I am under the impression did not exist in former years. Although the Bill has been long on the Paper, this is the first 190 we have heard of this necessity of which I understand the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has received intimation from official sources, and which will have a serious effect on the fate of the Bill this Session. If this Bill goes to a Select Committee, before whom council and witnesses are to be hoard, all I can say is that, if this programme is gone through, we have heard the last of the Bill. I want to know on what day it is proposed the Committee shall sit; and, secondly, I want au assurance that the Committee shall sit from day to day until they report; and also I should like to know will the Committee go through the process of taking the evidence of witnesses? Such a proceeding is wholly unnecessary. A Royal Commission held an inquiry into the subject, extending over three weeks; every point was made matter of evidence, witnesses have testified upon it, and the Commissioners have reported upon it. If it is open to mo to do so, I would leave out, in the Order of Reference to the Committee, the examination of witnesses; and this suggestion is wrapped up in the claim I make that the Bill shall be carried this year. The Royal Commission have pointed out the danger of delay in a town like Belfast, where riots dangerous to property and fatal to life are likely to break out at any moment, and I am here as representing 70,000 constituents who are exposed to the greatest danger until sufficient measures are taken to preserve the peace and order of the town. If the Bill does not pass this year, there is grave danger of serious disturbances in Belfast; and the Government, if they do not make strenuous efforts to pass the Bill, will, in the face of the solemn warning of the Royal Commission, be guilty of a grave dereliction of public duty.
THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDER SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Colonel KING-HARMAN) (Kent, Isle of Thanet)
I agree in the importance of passing the Bill this Session; but the difficulties in the way are increased by the course the hon. Gentleman is now taking. It was only this afternoon I received an official communication that it would be necessary to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, I acquainted the hon. Gentleman with the fact at the earliest moment, and asked him to serve on the Committee, and I trusted he would assist mo in for- 191 warding the Bill. I am fully alive to the importance of the Bill, and have the strongest desire to see it pass.
§ MR. M. J. KENNY (Tyrone, Mid)
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has not given a particle of information on the points addressed to him. He was asked upon what authority or rule it was necessary to refer this Bill to a Select Committee?
§ COLONEL KING-HARMAN
On a Standing Order which cannot be altered.[Cries of "Which Standing Order?"]
§ MR. M. J. KENNY
we want to know which Standing Order; and, further, assuming that there is such a Standing Order, why it is not open to the House to suspend this Standing Order? As to the imputation that my hon. Friend (Mr. Sexton) seeks to delay the Bill, what ground is there for that, seeing that he seeks to avoid the delay caused by the examination of the crowd of witnesses the Corporation of Belfast will not hesitate to bring over? We are now at the 27th of July, in the dying days of the Session; and to refer a Bill to a Select Committe, before whom counsel can examine and cross-examine witnesses at length, is manifestly a course that will destroy the Bill. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman will have to clear himself from the charge of seeking to do this, at the instigation of some person whose name does not appear, by other reasons than those he has given for the action he is now taking.
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY (Mr. JACKSON) (Leeds, N.)
I hope we may now be allowed to proceed. It is clear that, under the Standing Orders, the Bill comes within the category of those that must be referred to a Select Committee. The Government have, as my hon. and gallant Friend says, every desire to push the Bill forward; and, having in view the period of the Session, it will be in the power of the Committee to expedite its proceedings, so that the examination need not necessarily destroy the Bill.
§ MR. JACKSON
I understand there is no precedent for such a course; and it is undesirable for the Government to set a precedent that might be extremely inconvenient in future application.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)
The Government were not so chary of setting precedents when we had the Crimes Bill before us; and on a very resent occasion they did not hesitate to propose the suspension of four Standing Orders at once. I can entirely bear out what was said by my hon. Friend (Mr. Sexton) as to the development of a new official system, in regard to Bills of this kind, and it is carried out with great energy against particular Bills. On the other hand, do we not see Tramway Bills that affect private interests passed without reference to a Select Committee? We do not hear that, though the Ulster Canal Bill affects private interests, it is referred to a Select Committee. Another case in point is the Manchester Ship Canal Bill, to forward which you suspended half-a-score of Standing Orders.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
And has not the subject of this Bill been before a Royal Commission? In reference to the Manchester Ship Canal Bill, too, the House imposed on the Committee the duty of reporting by a given day. Why should not a similar course be adopted with this Bill? In the case of the Manchester Ship Canal, it was felt that it would be unreasonable to go over the mass of evidence again; and I say of this Bill that Judge Day's Commission went fully into the whole matter, and, founding myself on the precedent of the Manchester Ship Canal Bill, I will move an Instruction to the Committee to report to the House on Monday.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
Very well, Sir; hut as it would be more respectful to my hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) I will leave him to give Notice for to-morrow.
§ MR. SEXTON
I wish to be allowed to say that I did not intend to attach any blame to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel King-Harman). He did inform me of the course he was obliged to take, and I intimated my willingness to serve on the Committee; but I do not think that debarred me from pointing out to the House that which I thought necessary to point out.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
I hope the Government will assent to such an Instruction as that suggested, not that the Committee should necessarily report on Monday, but on an early day.
§ MR. CHANCE (Kilkenny, S.)
It would, I think, be more convenient to deal with the whole matter at once, and it would, in the end, save time to adjourn this matter. I am not at all sure that there is an absolute Fixed Rule that requires the reference of this Bill to a Select Committee. The Bill does not affect private rights; it deals with subjects most exhaustively dealt with by Royal Commission, presided over by a Judge who took strong measures to prevent the inquiry being indefinitely protracted. Again, it would be open to the House to suspend the Rule; and, for all these reasons, I beg to move that the debate be adjourned.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Chance.)
§ MR. JACKSON
I do not rise, Sir, to make any objection to that Motion; but I would point out that the hon. Member must take the responsibility of his Motion. Arrangements have been made for the appointment of the Committee to-morrow.
§ COLONEL KING-HARMAN
Unless there should be very serious opposition, I may say there is every probability that the Committee would report on Monday; but, of course, an adjournment would make that impossible.
§ MR. SEXTON
It will be satisfactory if the Government will assent to the Committee being instructed to report on a certain day.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
The vigilant official who has sprung this information on the House at the last moment should have made his discovery sooner; but surely the Government, with their resources, can estimate how long the Bill will take. They have had a month to bring on their Bill, and that they were not aware of this necessity shows how fit they are to conduct Irish Business.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till To-morrow.