HC Deb 24 August 1889 vol 340 cc424-9

Considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Schedule 1.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this be the First Schedule of the Bill."

MR. LEA (Londonderry, S.)

I feel bound to refer to the Sale of Liquors on Sunday (Ireland) Act, which is proposed to be continued by means of this Bill. I have tried to obtain other opportunities of dealing with the question, but have not been successful. The Act has been renewed in the Expiring Laws Continuance Acts year after year for six or eight years. It is highly objectionable that such a measure should be so treated. The fact was recognised long ago, and in 1883 and 1884 Bills were brought in to make the law permanent. The year before last the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary admitted that it was most undesirable to renew the Act in this way, and a Select Committee was promised to inquire into the subject. The Committee sat last year, and, after a full investigation, recommended that the Act should be made permanent. At the beginning of last February a deputation waited upon the Chief Secretary in Dublin. I believe that such a deputation had never visited the Chief Secretary's Lodge before, and I think he was impressed with it. He made certain promises with regard to legislation in connection with the Act, and we believed that, as a result of these promises, the subject would not again be dealt with in the Expiring Laws Continuance Act. We were promised the Government would either bring in a Bill of their own or assist some private Member to carry a measure through the House. The Government have not brought in a Bill this Session, nor have they done the next best thing in giving aid to any private Member in bringing in a Bill. I do not blame the Chief Secretary; I believe he has done his best, and that he fully recognises the strong feeling there is in Ireland in favour of a measure of this kind. The Government, however, have failed to carry out the promises they made, nor have they even made an effort to carry them out; they have not devoted five minutes' discussion to the subject or walked once through the Division Lobby.


Sir, I rise to a point of order. I wish to ask you whether, upon the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, which is the subject of our Debate now, it is in order for an hon. Member to raise a discussion upon another Bill which is, I understand, in the charge of the hon. Member for South Londonderry, and upon the facilities that may have been afforded for the discussion on that Bill? Is that in order?


On the point of order, Sir, I would ask you whether it is not perfectly competent to discuss the question whether a particular Bill should be included in this Continuance Bill, or whether it is of such a character that it should not be so included?


It is competent for an hon. Member to discuss the proposition to include any Bill in the schedule. It is not competent for him for him to discuss another Bill of the same character to that which it is proposed shall take its place in the schedule. But I understand the hon. Member was making his observations for the purpose of showing that it would be necessary to insert this in the schedule.


That was my intention; but I will not refer to the other Bill further. I will only say this—that the people of Ireland have a very strong feeling that this Act should not remain in the schedule of the Continuance Act, but should take its place as a permanent measure. We had promises from the Government early in the Session, and we believed that these promises would be fulfilled. The great majority of the people of Ireland are wishful that this Act should not remain a temporary Act. It is a well-known fact that every Unionist Member is in favour of a permanent Sunday Closing Act. But I do not think that affords sufficient justification for legislation of this kind; but I think I may add that such a Bill has the support of the majority of Members below the Gangway.


I do not think the hon. Member is now confining himself to the discussion of the particular Act in the schedule. The only question is whether that Act shall remain in the schedule or not for another year. The question of its permanent character is not one that can now be entered upon.


Under the circumstances, Sir, perhaps I had better obtain some other occasion. I thought that I should find my opportunity now.


Do I understand your ruling to be that under no circumstances is it competent for an hon. Member to discuss the merits of an Act that is included in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill?


I gave no such ruling. The question now for discussion is whether the particular Act is one that should be included in the schedule or not.


I wish to say a few words as to the character of the Act it is proposed to include, and I begin by saying that it is one that should not be included. It is a measure which, from whatever point of view we regard it, should not be dealt with in this way in an Expiring Laws Bill. That, I think, is a proposition which will be accepted both by the supporters and the opponents of the measure. Two years ago this question was raised at the instance of the Lord Mayor of Dublin, and there was a general protest against the Act being included in a Continuance Bill, and we submitted to the House that if the measure were carried out at all it should be settled finally in an ordinary Act of Parliament. I do not intend to address the Committee at any length, but I say the Government in this matter have been guilty of what, in my opinion, is a discreditable breach of faith. At the beginning of the Session they promised that this year they would settle the question by a definite measure, and permanently. Throughout the whole Session they have been holding out hopes to the supporters of the measure that they would so dispose of it. Both the First Lord of the Treasury and the Chief Secretary have expressed themselves publicly in that sense, and thus they have lulled the supporters of this legislation into a sleep from which they are now finally roused to find that the measure is still to keep its temporary character in this Expiring Laws Bill. I do not agree that the Chief Secretary has done his best; he distinctly promised on the part of the Government that a portion of the time of this Session should be given to this subject, and that promise has been broken without any reason whatever, and I consider that a deliberate breach of faith.


Generally speaking, I should agree that a social measure of this kind, touching as it does the daily life of the people, should be considered in a definite measure by itself, and not as a part of this Bill. But I do not feel called upon, standing in what I may call an impartial position, on the 24th August to go into the question as between friends and opponents of such legislation. The only question before us now is whether we shall continue the Act for another year or allow it to drop. The time may come when we may discuss the subject in a permanent measure, and the only possible result of striking the Act from the schedule now will be that for the next year there will be no Sunday closing in Ireland at all.

MR. BIGGAR (Cavan, W.)

That is not quite the point that is raised. The hon. Member for South Londonderry does not propose to leave out the Act; he simply discusses the propriety of continually renewing it in this Continuance Bill. I think it would be better for all parties if, instead of putting it among the Acts to be continued, it were made a permanent Act by itself. Of course, I will not attempt to discuss it now. Considering that the subject has been carefully examined by a Committee, that much evidence has been taken, and that the Committee have made a recommendation upon which a suitable Bill may be framed, I think that the time has arrived when the Government might undertake legislation on the subject. I certainly understood the Government to hold out hopes that this subject would have a final settlement this Session. I cannot say that I know that of my own knowledge, for, of course, I did not form one of the Unionist deputation to the Castle. It may be that the Government have been influenced by the signs of opposition to the Bill. Upon this I will only say that the publicans in Ireland are a very strong organisation, and, of course, nothing is more easy for members of an organisation than to communicate with Members of Parliament and to urge them to take a particular course. The great mass of the people not having a money interest in the subject are not so exigent, and do not make such representations to Members of Parliament, and so these notices of opposition do not represent the popular feeling of the localities in regard to Sunday closing. In my own constituency, before I was Member, the locality had practically settled the question for itself in the direction of Sunday closing.


The hon. Member is not in order in discussing these matters. They are not relevant to the question whether this Act should remain in the schedule or not.


I do not wish to pursue the subject further. Really, I have said all that I wished to say, only I will add that I hope that when we come to this day next Session we shall not be discussing the propriety of including this Act in the Continuance Bill.

MR. O'NEILL (Antrim, Mid)

I only rise to express the deep disappointment which is felt in the North of Ireland at the failure of the Government to carry a permanent Bill this Session; the feeling in favour of that course is very strong among all classes. Of course, I do not wish to have the Act omitted now; I wish to press the Government to give the subject a fair hearing in the early part of next Session.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill reported without Amendment.

Read the third time, and passed.