HC Deb 10 April 1888 vol 324 cc911-5
MR. P. M'DONALD (Sligo, N.)

said, he rose to move the Motion standing his name— That the Select Committee on Sunday Closing Acts (Ireland) do consist of Seventeen members, and that Mr. Edward Harrington and Mr. Sexton be added to the Committee, He moved the Resolution, because the Committee as at present constituted was not in the ordinary sense of the word a fair one. To be a fair Committee, there should be at least a corresponding amount of opinion on both sides of the question. Judging by what he had seen, he considered there was a very great preponderance on the one side—in fact, there was twice as much on one side of the present Committee as there was on the other. The two hon. Members he desired to have added to the Committee were such as he was sure there could be no objection taken to. The hon. Member for one of the divisions of Kerry, by his close attention to the Business of the House and the great practical ability he brought to bear on all questions, ought to be admirably fitted to take a place on the Committee. With regard to the hon. Member for West Belfast, his capabilities and fitness were so well known that he hoped no hon. Gentleman would stand up in his place and object to that hon. Member being added to the Committee. They had already a precedent for the Motion which he had made. In 1877, on the Motion of the present President of the Board of Trade (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), who was then Chief Secretary for Ireland, a Committee similar to that was appointed; and some days afterwards a further Motion was made, similar to the one he was now making—that the Committee, instead of 15, should consist of 17, and that supplementary Motion was agreed to. He therefore contended he was not making any departure from a principle already established, and he accordingly moved the Motion standing in his name.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Select Committee on Sunday Closing Acts (Ireland) do consist of Seventeen Members."—(Mr. peter M'Donald.)

MR. BIGGAR (Cavan, W.)

said, he rose to object to the Motion of his hon. Friend (Mr. P. M'Donald). The hon. Gentleman had made an imputation with regard to the constitution of a Committee which was now in existence, and which had already had two sittings. He (Mr. Biggar) might point out as an evidence that the contrary was the case, that the only divisions which had taken place were in favour of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down. It was very well known that the usual mode of selecting a Committee of the kind, and the one which had been followed, was this—each particular Party as represented by its Whip nominated Members of their Party. The Licensed Vintners, through their Secretary, sent shoals of telegrams nominating eight Members whom they wished to have on the Committee. As he (Mr. Biggar) represented the Party led by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) as a Whip, he found out that the number of Members belong- ing to that Party who would be allowed on the Committee was four, and the first thing he did was to take the nominations of the paid Secretary of the Licensed Vintners, from which he took two names out of the four, and, of course, in fair play, he nominated two on the other side, whom he thought to be impartial. He thought, in doing so, he was acting in a fair and proper manner, and it was preposterous that such a Motion as this should now be moved by the hon. Gentleman behind him. If they had to squabble over every Committee, as to the opinions the Members held on particular questions, the result would be the whole time of the House would be occupied in discussions as to the selection of Members of Committees. The Committee was not moved by himself, but by a Member of the Government. An objection was made at the time the Committee was moved, by one of the hon. Members who now brought forward the Motion; some slight explanation was made, and then the hon. Gentleman did not feel it necessary to divide the House on the question; but they now came, after the Committee had had two sittings, and said they thought it desirable to get on two Gentlemen whose names were supplied by the paid Secretary of the Licensed Vintners. He (Mr. Biggar) had not taken the trouble to ask these two hon. Gentlemen their opinion, but he know their names were supplied by the Secretary of the Vintners' Association. He appealed to the House to support the Committee as at present constituted; for, if the Motion were carried, the practical result would be this—that he would feel called upon to propose two other names to counterbalance the two names which the Licensed Vintners had nominated. The result would be that others would do the same, and they would have a large Committee of 30 Members instead of one of 15. The present Committee had been selected in the customary manner, and, under all the circumstances, he thought the House would unanimously reject the Motion.

MR. JOHN O'CONNOR (Tipperary, S.)

, in supporting the Motion, said he regretted to find that his hon. Friend the Member for West Cavan (Mr. Biggar) considered it to be his duty to support what he (Mr. J. O'Connor) believed to be a cause of injustice. For the first time, the Member for West Cavan had exhibited to the House of Commons that spectacle. He denied altogether that there was any intention on the part of himself, or the hon. Member for North Sligo, to squabble over the composition of the Committee. He should be in the recollection of the House when he said that he had, on a former occasion, taken exception to the composition of the Committee which he had stated was, in his opinion, unequally and unfairly constituted. It was because of that, and the belief that the Committee was incapable of arriving at a fair and impartial conclusion, that Notice was there and then given of a Motion for increasing the number of its Members. He would give the reasons why they wished the two hon. Members added to the Committee, which was that they would bring to the consideration of the question an unprejudiced mind. His hon. Friend the Member for West Cavan had stated that there had been already two divisions in the Committee, and that they were in favour of the hon. Member for North Sligo; but what they looked forward to was the Report of the Committee, that by evidence and the elucidation of the truth, to so modify the Report of the majority of that Committee as to strengthen the Report of the minority. There were at present altogether eight Members from Ireland, or about one-half of the whole number, on the Committee; but he maintained that as the question was an Irish one, and ought to be decided from an Irish point of view, there ought to be a majority of Irish Members on the Committee. In what position did the eight Irish Members stand with regard to that view of the question? Six of them were hostile to the interests to be investigated, and two only had any sympathy with them. He denied that that was a fair proportion, and maintained that they were justified in asking that the Committee should be strengthened by the addition of two men who were unconnected with the trade, and who could bring to the consideration of the subject impartial minds. The hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) was Lord Mayor of Dublin, and the hon. Member for West Kerry (Mr. Edward Harrington) was a journalist. Their names were selected because they were known to be impartial men. He had said that the Members for Ireland were in the proportion of six to two as regarded opinion on the subject. He, therefore, had no objection to some others being put on the Committee. One Member of the Committee had brought in a Bill dealing with a certain section of the liquor traffic. It was quite right that that hon. Gentleman should be on the Committee, because his Bill would be referred to; but he wished to bring before the House another fact in connection with the Committee—that not only were the Members for Ireland unequally divided, but they had been selected from the Liberal Party above the Gangway, and among them were four Gentlemen antagonistic to the interests they had to investigate, and four were advocates of the temperance cause. In the face of these facts, he would ask the House to consider the fact that they were only making a reasonable request in seeking the addition to the Committee which his hon. Friend desired. For these reasons he begged to support the Motion.

MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)

said, he opposed the Motion, and wished to point out that the work which the Committee had to inquire into was the operation of the Sunday Closing Act. The evidence was not matter of opinion; it was mere matter of fact with which the Committee would have to deal. He would like to remind the House with regard to the precedent quoted by the Member for North Sligo, that when the President of the Board of Trade moved the addition of two names to the Committee in 1887, the right hon. Gentleman was careful not to take two men holding the same opinions, but to take one on each side of the question, whereas there was now an attempt to put two hon. Members holding distinctive views on the Committee. He hoped that inasmuch as the selection had been made in the proper manner the Motion would be rejected, that the House would adhere to the present constitution of the Committee, and allow it to proceed with its work.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 9; Noes 173: Majority 164.—(Div. List, No. 63.)