HC Deb 02 July 1888 vol 328 cc33-43

Order for Consideration, as amended, read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now taken into Consideration."

MR. BIGGAR (Cavan, W.)

, in moving the adjournment of the debate until Thursday next, said, the Bill had passed the House of Lords, so that an adjournment could make no practical difference in reference to the final stages of the Bill. The Amendments which were on the Paper, although numerous, would make no difference in the principle of the Bill. They were, however, Amendments which ought to be considered on their merits, and as an interesting discussion was likely to arise on a cognate measure that was about to be introduced by the Chief Secretary for Ireland, he thought it would be convenient to adjourn the debate until Thursday, The hon. Member for North Fermanagh (Mr. W. Redmond), who took a great interest in the Bill, was not at that moment present, and it was desirable that he should have the opportunity of stating what were the views of Mr. Paulton in regard to the measure. He, therefore, begged to move, that the Debate be now adjourned.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned." (Mr. Biggar.)


said, he trusted that the House would not assent to the unusual proposal of the hon. Member. The Bill was originally an unopposed Bill, but out of consideration for the views of some hon. Members it had been referred to a Select Committee, of which he had the honour to be Chairman. The Bill had already been subjected to a most exhaustive and careful inquiry. The Amendments to which the hon. Member for West Cavan (Mr. Biggar) had referred were not brought before the Committee as they might have been, and, instead of being minor Amendments, they went to the very root of the Bill, and if carried in their entirety, they would destroy the measure, and make the scheme it was intended to promote absolutely impos- sible. The hon. Member had adduced no sufficient reason for a postponement of the Bill. The House was fully able and quite prepared to decide every question, and he, therefore, trusted that the Motion would be assented to.

MR. JORDAN (Clare, W.)

, said, he thought the proposal of his hon Friend the Member for West Cavan to adjourn the debate was a most preposterous one; that his hon. Friend had certainly assigned no sufficient reason whatever, except that some hon. Member had favoured him with a telegram indicating that he was anxious to present the views of a Mr. Paulton. He certainly thought they would be going out of their way to postpone the legislation of that House in order to study the convenience of hon. Members. The matter had been before the North of Ireland for the last 15 years, and there was a strong desire felt in that part of the Kingdom that the Ulster Canal should be made navigable. The Bill in some shape or other had now been before the House for five years, and before the public for 10 years previously. When the Bill came before the House as an unopposed Bill, a Motion by the hon. and learned Member for North Longford (Mr. T. M. Healy) that it should be referred to a Select Committee was agreed to, and now the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Maurice Healy) desired that it should be re-committed to the whole House. He (Mr. Jordan) was afraid the proposal of the hon. Member for West Cavan was made, not for the purpose of adjournment, but for the purpose of killing the Bill altogether. The Canal was much wanted, and the needs of trade in that locality required it. In the North of Ireland the people were of one accord in relation to the necessity of rendering the Canal navigable.


said, the hon. Member was now going into the merits of the Bill. He must confine himself to the Question of Adjournment.


said, he would only appeal to the Southern Nationalist Members to vote against the proposal of the hon. Member for West Cavan, and to give them Home Rule in the North of Ireland for the management of their own affairs.


said, that whatever other Southern Nationalist Members might do, he, for one, could not yield to the request of the hon. Member (Mr. Jordan). The proceedings of the Select Committee on the Bill might or might not deserve all the praise which the right hon. Gentleman below the Gangway (Mr. Stansfeld) had bestowed upon it. He quite agreed that the labours of the Committee had considerably improved the Bill. The whole question, however, before the House was whether this was a convenient time for taking a debate upon the Bill, and he was of opinion that it was not. In the first place, a considerable portion of the time devoted to Private Bill legislation had already been consumed upon another measure, and it was exceedingly undesirable that the whole of the time of the House should be appropriated to the consideration of Private Business when there were important matters of public interest on the Paper for consideration. There were numerous Amendments upon the Paper with which it would be impossible to proceed in the limited time at their disposal, and the result would be, that if they were compelled to go on with them, the discussion must necessarily be confined within very small limits indeed. He would not discuss the nature of the Amendments on the Paper now, but would only say that they were important Amendments which well deserved the attention of the House. They were Amendments which would require some discussion, and they certainly did not deserve the strong attitude which the hon. Member for West Clare (Mr. Jordan) had taken with regard to them. It was most unfair to expect that they could be discussed in the time now at their disposal, and all they asked was that they should be allowed a reasonable opportunity for discussing them.

MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)

said, he regretted that he was not able, at that moment, to support the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for West Cavan. His hon. Friend was of opinion that the interests of every individual in Ireland would be injuriously affected; but he thought that if the Bill were proceeded with then, there would be due time to consider it. If the Motion were agreed to, had his hon. Friend the Member for Cork (Mr. Maurice Healy) any reason to believe that a debate on Thursday would be more effective than if it were taken then? Personally, he saw no reason for entertaining that belief. The Bill had been before the House for several years, and had been defeated by the application of the blocking Rule. It was now brought forward as a private Bill, and as there was no opposition to it in the ordinary way, it would have gone before the Committee as an unopposed Bill; but on the Motion of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Longford (Mr. T. M. Healy) it was referred to a Select Committee, and under the impartial presidency of the right hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld), it was fairly and carefully considered, together with various Amendments which were proposed to be made to it. The absence of any hon. Member from the House could not be regarded as a fair reason for postponing the Bill. Serious damage had been caused by the delay which had occurred in passing the Bill, and in the name of his constituents and the town of Belfast, he protested against any further unnecessary delay in the matter. If his hon. Friend (Mr. Biggar) carried his Motion to a Division, he should be obliged to vote against him.


said, there was an almost universal opinion in the North of Ireland in favour of the Bill being proceeded with as rapidly as possible. He, therefore, hoped hon. Members would not assent to the Motion which had been made by his hon. Friend the Member for West Cavan (Mr. Biggar).

Question put, and negatived.

Original Question again proposed.


said, he rose for the purpose of moving a Resolution.


The first question is the Motion "That the Bill be now considered."

Original Question put, and agreed to.

Bill considered.


said, the Motion he proposed to make was— That, inasmuch as this Bill has been fully considered by a Select Committee, this House declines to entertain Amendments which ought to have been brought before the Committee, and that the Bill be ordered to be read a third time. With the leave of the House he would state why he considered it his duty to deal with these Amendments in so de- cisive a manner. In the first place, he wished the House to understand the subject matter of the Bill. The Bill was for the purpose of enabling a Canal Company to come to terms with the Board of Works in Ireland, with the sanction of the Treasury, in regard to the taking over of the Ulster and Tyrone Navigation.


said, he rose to a point of Order. He wished to submit, in regard to the Motion the right hon. Gentleman proposed to make, whether it was competent for any Member of that House to make a Motion in order to prevent other Members from moving Amendments in a Bill? He would ask whether there was any precedent for such a Motion, either on the Report or Committee stage of the Bill, which would have the effect of shutting out other Members who had a desire to move Amendments on either of those stages?


The right hon. Gentleman, in proposing this Motion, has taken an unusual course, and the circumstances in which the House finds itself are also most unusual. I consider that the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman, so far as I can gather its purport, would be for the purpose of relieving the House from a state of things which would be intolerable. This Bill, as I understand it, having been before the House for many years as a Public Bill, and this year as a Private Bill, was, at the request of an hon. and learned Member of this House, referred to a Committee of a very special kind, and that Committee has reported. Besides, the Motion on the Paper is, that the Bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole House. That would be an improper Motion, in my view, to make. The Bill could not possibly be referred to a Committee of the Whole House, as such a Committee is not a proper judicial tribunal to consider questions of this nature. The Select Committee has made a very full Report, and if the House is to be called upon to go into a vast series of Amendments after the whole subject has been considered by a special Committee, then I consider that encouragement would be given to the introduction of an abuse of a very grave kind. In those circumstances, I have permitted the right hon. Gentleman to make the Motion.


May I ask if there is any precedent for the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman?


I have given a very full answer to the hon. Gentleman. The course proposed to be taken by the hon. Gentleman, and some other hon. Gentlemen who appear to be acting with him, is irregular; and, as the only way of getting the House out of the difficulty, I take upon myself the responsibility of allowing the Motion to be made.


Is it competent for any hon. Member to move on the Report stage of a Private or Public Bill, a Resolution of which no Notice has been given, and which does not appear on the Paper?


I have given my full answer. Under the circumstances, I consider the course taken by the right hon. Gentleman to be permissible. With regard to the hon. Member's inquiry, it is my duty to deal with questions of Order as they arise.


In the event of the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman being carried, will it be competent for any hon. Member to point out or to move the correction of obvious verbal mistakes in the Bill as it stands?


Verbal corrections can always be made on the third reading stage. The Question is now, that the Bill be ordered to be read the third time, and when that Motion—i.e., for the third reading—comes on, the verbal Amendments referred to can be made, and also objection taken to the third reading.


I am sorry to trouble you again, Sir; but I wish to ask a further question upon this important matter—namely, whether you would rule the Motion the right hon. Gentleman is now making to be a pro-per Motion to make in reference to a Public Bill?


It is quite sufficient to me to answer questions as they arise.


said, there was every reason why they should now proceed to the third reading of this Bill, and any verbal inaccuracies which appeared in it could be set aside. He had already stated what the proposal was. It was a proposal in regard to a Canal, portions of which were not at present navigable, and the object was to make them navigable in future, so as to have complete canal communication from Belfast Lough to Lough Earn. The Board of Works proposed to hand this power to the Lagan Canal Company. He might say that the Board of Works had no other offer than that of this trading Company. There was no competition whatever. The Bill empowered the Board of Works to enter into an agreement or contract with the Lagan Company to take over the Ulster and Tyrone Canal upon certain terms, and it limited and restricted both the Government and the Lagan Company equally as to what those terms were to be. The Bill had no other object and no other bearing. The works were specified which the Lagan Company were to undertake in consideration of having this undertaking transferred to them, and the works were to be completed in three years. By the Bill as amended in Committee the agreement was to include a condition of giving a uniform depth of five feet to the Ulster Canal, and in the case of any default, the Canal must be handed over to the Commissioners of Works and the provisions of the Bill would come to an end. There were also provisions contained in the Bill for the collection of tolls to be approved by the Board of Works and other provisions for the management of the Canal. He, therefore, submitted that in regard to that undertaking they had provided sufficient safeguards for the public interest, and that if the transfer of this Canal to a competent commercial body of proved ability was to be held good in itself, those safeguards should be held sufficient if the Bill passed into law. So far as the multitudinous Amendments which had been placed on the Paper were concerned, they were directed, in his opinion, not to the Amendment, but to the destruction of the Bill. That was certainly the conviction of all persons who were acquainted with the subject, and who approved of the measure. He might point to one Amendment of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Maurice Healy), who proposed that after the Lagan Company shall have taken over this Canal and raised money by loan and expended it on works, that— In case any grand juries, poor law guardians, or other local representative bodies hereafter to be created should obtain or have the right to acquire the said canals, the commis sioners shall have power to vest the said canals in such body or bodies, on payment by them to the company, of such sum only as the company shall have actually expended in putting the said canals into repair or in improving same. That completely showed that the object of certain hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway was to defeat a project of which he knew they did not approve. He, therefore, thought that their Motion should be made on the third reading and not discussed under the form of multitudinous Amendments, which, if discussed, would occupy a considerable portion of the time of the House. He, therefore, begged to move the Motion he had read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, inasmuch as this Bill has been fully considered by a Select Committee, this House declines to entertain Amendments which ought to have been brought before the Committee, and that the Bill be ordered to be read a third time."—(Mr. Stansfeld.)


said, he hoped that the observations which had been made by the right hon. Member did not refer to him. He had placed certain Amendments on the Paper, and he begged to disclaim altogether any idea or attempt to defeat or injure the Bill. He rejoiced, as much as any other hon. Member could rejoice, at the prospect of a water way being made across the Northern Province of Ulster. The Amendments he had put on the Paper were of a restrictive character; but they had all been put down in perfectly good faith, with a desire to protect the public interest as against private encouragement, and they were not at all calculated to impede the traffic of the Canal or injure any legitimate interest. The facts of the case were these: The Canal had already cost the public enormous sums of money, several hundreds of thousands of pounds, and it was proposed to hand the Canal over to a Company holding another navigation. He had no objection to make to that; but the terms on which the transfer was to be made were very extraordinary. The Company was not only to take over the Canal, but was also to be paid for doing so. It was to receive £3,500 in hard cash from the Government for its kindness in accepting this very handsome property. Moreover, powers were given in the Bill to enable the Company to obtain public money to the extent of another £20,000 by loan. He had no objection to the Company having money on loan; but what he wanted to provide for was that no more public money should be sunk or wasted upon this Canal. Therefore, one Amendment he had placed upon the Paper was intended to secure that any money authorized to be borrowed should be obtained from private persons or Companies. If that was a bonâ fide understanding the Company ought to be able to obtain any money they required from private persons, instead of going to the Government for it. He next proposed that when the Company should have raised money by loan, the security should be not merely the Ulster Canal, but the Company's entire undertaking, in which case, if the public money were advanced, there would be something like a security, instead of what they would probably have if the Bill were passed in its present stage—namely, a worthless security thrown on their hands. Another Amendment he desired to propose was not intended to injure the Company, but to protect a number of small leaseholders along the 44 miles stretch of the Ulster Canal, who, if the Lagan Company came into possession, might be summarily dispossessed and seriously injured. The Committee to whom the Bill was referred, refused to insert a clause which would have protected those small leaseholders; but he hoped the House would agree to the Amendment he had placed upon the Paper. Finally, the last Amendment was to substitute the word "holdings" for "interest," so as to secure that the holdings should be protected, although the tenants might be under the necessity of paying something in order to render them the absolute owners of their holdings. This exhausted the whole of his Amendments, and he had not placed them on the Paper with a view of defeating the Bill, but with a bonâ fide desire to serve the public interest.


said, the question before the House was not the merits of the Amendments, but whether the House should have a fair opportunity of discussing the Bill, or whether an absolutely unprecedented course should be taken in order to save a few hours of the time of the House. He appealed confidently to Members of the House whether they were in favour of the Bill or opposed to it, or whether they thought the Amendments proper or not, not to support a Motion of this kind. As far as the history of Private Bill legislation went, the House had always permitted Amendments to be moved upon this stage of a Bill. They were now asked, for the first time, to abrogate that rule, not with a view of saving the Bill, which was in no danger, nor to secure the passing of a Bill which was certain to pass, but to save time. He submitted that that was an unreason-able proposal, and that if it were acceded to, the House would be establishing a dangerous principle. Last year there was a prolonged discussion on a Private Bill, and the Rules of the House were positively strained by the moving of Amendments; but the Government did not dare to take the course now proposed to be taken in regard to this Bill. For the purpose of saving a few hours of its time, the House was asked to give its sanction to a dangerous innovation upon the practices of the House. What was the effect of the Resolution? It would not merely shut out Amendments which, as the right hon. Gentleman said, might properly have gone before the Committee; but it would strike out good Amendments and bad Amendments alike. He admitted that Amendments were very numerous, but the right hon. Gentleman had only pointed to one, and that was an Amendment which struck more at the principle of the Bill than its details. Was it a fair supposition that because an Amendment of that character had been placed on the Paper, all other Amendments that were perfectly good and arguable were to be put aside? He would not detain the House by going through the Amendments seriatim, but anyone who took the trouble to read them would see that they were drawn with some knowledge of the subject, and with due consideration for the facts. They were most proper Amendments to be inserted in a Bill. This Bill had for several years been introduced as a Public instead of a Private Bill. His view and that of some of his hon. Friends was, that the subject matter of the Bill was a public matter; that it was not a question merely affecting the rights of individuals, but of the whole community. It was a question in which the Irish Go- vernment proposed to hand over to a private Company a property which had cost the State nearly £200,000. The Bill had been introduced as a Private Bill, and the public interests were, therefore, unrepresented, and now hon. Members who were prepared to submit proper and reasonable Amendments were sought to be deprived of the opportunity of doing so by the sweeping and revolutionary proposal of the right hon. Gentleman. He appealed to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who had some respect for the Rules of Procedure in that House—Rules which had existed so long and worked so well—not to get rid of the forms of the House for the simple service of saving time. At the very outside, if they refused to discuss the Amendments they would only save a couple of hours. He submitted that it was most dangerous for a small consideration of that kind that they should abolish their Rules of Procedure in regard to a Report stage of a Private Bill.


said, the Bill was one of the very few occasions he remembered on which in Ireland they had arrived at almost practical unanimity. At the present moment the whole of the House of Lords and the House of Commons practically, with the exception of the hon. Member for West Cavan, were in favour of the Bill. The question had been before the House for a considerable number of years. It had already been fully discussed, and the House had consented to refer it to a Committee in order to satisfy the hon. Member for West Cavan and the hon. and learned Member for North Longford. In the Committee it had been discussed with great care under the presidency of the right hon. Member for Halifax. Nearly everyone of the Amendments now proposed had been amply discussed, and he, therefore, claimed to move "That the Question be now put."

Question, "That the Question be now put," put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, and agreed to. Resolved, That, inasmuch as this Bill has been fully considered by a Select Committee, this House declines to entertain Amendments, which ought to have been brought before the Committee, and that the Bill be ordered to be read a third time.

Bill to be read the third time.

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