HC Deb 10 May 1888 vol 325 cc1929-32

(Mr. Attorney General, Mr. Secretary Matthews, Mr. Solicitor General.)

COMMITTEE. [Progress 7th May.]

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Sir JOHN GORST in the Chair.

Clause 1 (Person charged with offence and wife or husband to be competent as witnesses).

Amendment, as amended, in page 1, line 5, before the word "where," to insert the words "in England and Scotland."

Question again proposed, "That those words be there inserted."

MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)

said, he must beg leave to move that Progress be reported. It could not really be expected that they should proceed with the Bill at such a time. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. H. Smith) need not be so nimble—he might contain himself for a moment, though it was only an unfortunate Irish Member speaking. On the last night of the discussion in Committee, for something like two hours Scotch Members had it all their own way, and no Irish Member had an opportunity of speaking on the Irish question; but the Irish question in relation to the Bill was really the vital point. The question before the Committee was raised on an Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for the St. Rollox Division of Glasgow (Mr. Caldwell), an Unionist Member who supported the Coercion Bill of last year with great ability and fervour. It was now proposed, the earlier Bills having been disposed of, owing to concessions on the part of the House, somewhat earlier than was anticipated, that in a quarter-of-an-hour the arguments of Irish Members as to the application of this change in criminal evidence for Ireland should be disposed of. He would appeal to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Chairman, who, with his great experience below the Gangway, would be the first to recognize the undesirability of such a course. Was it reasonable to consume precious time in fruitless discussion, there having been no adequate opportunity for real discussion of that most important matter? What he would suggest to the Leader of the House, ever ready to rise for promoting "the dignity of the House" and the "Business of the country," of which he was so fond of talking, was that he should devote the spare quarter-of-an-hour to some Business that might be disposed of within that time. In that "British" Session the right hon. Gentleman had received from Irish Members every concession it was in their power to make; let him reciprocate in the same spirit, yield to the general desire and evident sense of the House, and consent to proceed with some other Business on the Paper. The very next Order was the Lunacy Acts Amendment Bill, a subject that he might very appropriately take up. It was to be hoped the Government would accept the suggestion, and agree to report Progress.

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


said, he would leave the Committee to consider whether the request was reasonable. The first question, as to whether or not the Bill should be limited so as to exclude Ireland, was discussed for three or four hours on the second reading, and a direct Motion was made to exclude Ireland, that Motion being negatived. Again, the other night there was a debate of some hours, though it was true that, as a matter of form, the particular question was whether or not Scotland should be included, yet, as everybody knew, the arguments were as much or more addressed to the case of Ireland. [Cries of "No, no!"]

MR. MARJORIBANKS (Berwickshire)

said, he must protest against the language of the Attorney General, conveying his account of what took place on a previous occasion. He (Mr. Marjoribanks) believed he was in a very strong position for knowing what took place, for he was present and voted with the Government for the closure, and he wished to state most emphatically that, in his opinion, the whole of the debate the other evening turned upon the exclusion of Scotland. The Amendment was moved by the hon. Member for the St. Rollox Division of Glasgow (Mr. Caldwell), who dropped the whole question of Ireland entirely in his argument, and referred solely to Scotland. His (Mr. Marjoribanks') right hon. and learned Friend the late Lord Advocate the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. J. B. Balfour) treated the subject in exactly the same way, and Member after Member rose and took the Scotch view of the question. Subsequently the hon. and learned Member for Dumfries (Mr. R. T. Reid) moved the Amendment to add the words "and Scotland," which was carried after the closure had been voted. He (Mr. Marjoribanks) supported the Closure Motion because he believed the Scotch point had been thoroughly discussed, but he claimed that there was no possible justification for refusing discussion of the Irish question.


said, it could not be pretended that, even if the question of Ireland had been incidentally alluded to in the discussion of the Bill as affecting Scotland, that that was a sufficient or an adequate discussion of the vital question at issue. Into that he would not now enter; but he did think that after the long discussion the House had had on an important subject, in which Irish Members had taken no part, except that one of his hon. Friends interposed for two or three minutes, it was a poor return from the Government Bench to closure Irish Members upon a subject in which they were deeply interested, without giving them a chance of expressing their views. He defied the Government to do it now—


reminded the hon. Member that a Motion to report Progress was before the Committee.


thought he appreciated that, and regretted if his unfortunate loquacity had carried him astray. He would venture to urge that it was not a decent thing to rush this question to an issue now. The only means by which the Government could do it was by means of the closure. He claimed, as an Irishman, that this was a vital point. Just as on the Bill of the previous day, they were not against the principle of the Bill; but, owing to the peculiar conditions in the administration of law and order in Ireland, it would be a disgrace to extend this Bill to Ireland. He claimed full time for discussion, though he knew in the end they would be beaten, to present their views to the country, and plead for the people with arguments that would secure a moral victory.

DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid)

said, he would submit that the views expressed by his hon. Friends were simply just. Practically speaking, it was impossible that they could express their views at such a time, and the Government were afraid of the arguments against the extension of the Bill to Ireland being heard by the country. He was not going to speak against time; but he would say this much—that though the Government, by their clôture, or other means they might be possessed of, stifled discussion and carried their point, it would be conduct akin to that of a big bully punishing a small boy; but if the small boy were listened to, his cause might still be a just one.


reminded the hon. Member of the Motion before the Committee.


said, he would only say, distinctly and emphatically, that if the Government forced a decision now, they would be guilty of cowardice of the most base and heinous character.

Question put.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 95; Noes 193: Majority 98.—(Div. List, No. 102.)

It being after Midnight, the Chairman left the Chair to report Progress.

Committee to sit again upon Monday next.