HC Deb 21 July 1890 vol 347 cc421-9

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this Bill be now read a second time."

*(9.50.) MR. WEBB (Waterford, W.)

The only objection I have to this Bill is the machinery by which it is proposed to work it. I should not object to the police being employed if stringent precautions are taken to ensure that the information obtained is not utilised for other than census purposes. We must all be aware that in many respects the relations of the police with the people in Ireland are not the same as those which exist here. I agree it is quite necessary that a correct census should be taken. I was particularly struck with the remarks of the Home Secretary regarding the inconvenience of having an enumeration of school children, because I am sure that, if such an enumeration were insisted on, parents would feel that the information would be used for other purposes. We know that the police have used the information contained in the last census papers for purposes to which it was not intended originally to apply it, and I think the Government should now assure us that the census papers at the next census will not be used for police purposes. Why, indeed, should the Government object to put in the Bill a clause giving that assurance? Why, also, should they not impose a penalty upon the improper disclosure and use of such information? It is my intention to propose clauses making some such provisions. There should be a minimum penalty of £2 for falsification of the Return. I hope, also, that the opportunity will be taken to ascertain the number of Irish-speaking people in Ireland.

(9.54.) MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)

I would strongly urge on the Government that the census should include a Return of the people speaking the Irish language. In every other country in the world the taking of the census is an occasion for rejoicing and self-congratulation on the advances which have been made; but the last four censuses in Ireland have told a terrible tale of how the people have wasted away. I am afraid that the forthcoming census will tell a similar story. I hope the Return will be made in such a form as to show to the House what is one of the most sad features in connection with the Irish census, namely, that the decrease has taken place in the richest districts, whereas the poorest districts, such as those in the North West, remain over-populated. With regard to the Return of Irish speaking people, I may say there is a strong-feeling in Ireland in favour of preserving such a remnant of the past as that language. But I rose chiefly to appeal to the Government on another matter. The Irish Census differs from the English Census in this particular. In Ireland, people are asked what their religion is, but in England they are not. Why, then, in Ireland should we not in the same way ask the opinion of the people on the great political question of the day? I put it in all seriousness to the Government and to the Liberal Party that the time has now come, when, without much trouble and expense, this great controversy can be settled. At present, the expressed opinions as to the strength of the loyal minority show great discrepancies. Hon. Members opposite speak of it as 2,000,000 or 2,500,000. My own conviction is that it docs not exceed 1,100,000. Would it not be an important element for the guidance of statesmen if we had a reliable Return? No man, woman, or child, in Ireland would have any objection to answering such a question. Would not the hon. Member for South Tyrone, or any of his friends, be proud to answer the question? We know that they would. Nothing I can say would give greater satisfaction to my friends than such a Return. The result would be to set at rest for ever all controversy as to the numerical proportions on each side. Before sitting down, I invite the hon. Member for South Belfast (Mr. W. Johnston), and the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell), to stand up and say whether they have any objection to such a proposal. If the National Party desire it, the Unionist Party ought not to be averse to it.


I can hardly suppose that the suggestion of the hon. Member for East Mayo as to ascertaining the politics of the people of Ireland by the census is made seriously. It would certainly involve the enumerators in great difficulty. For instance, when an enumerator asks a person whether he is in favour of the policy of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, that person might ask him to explain what was that policy. [An hon. MEMBER: Home Rule.] Another hon. Member suggests that the question put should be for or against Home Rule, but a person might just as fairly ask, "What do you mean by Home Rule?" It is impossible to imagine a census being taken in such a way. I repeat, therefore, that I cannot think the hon. Member made the suggestion seriously.


Quite seriously.


If the hon. Member is serious, I have given reasons why his suggestion should not be adopted. As to the suggestion of the hon. Member for West Waterford, I can assure him that no information obtained by means of the census will be improperly used. The present Bill is practically the same as previous Census Bills, and it is intended to take the census of Ireland in the same way as before.

(10.5) MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has been ingenious, but I submit that he has not been convincing, and that, unless he offers some better arguments than he has just advanced, the House will be disposed to think that my hon. Friend is entitled to what he asks for. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has suggested that there would be difficulty in replying to a question as to whether or not an Irishman is in favour of Home Rule; but there would be no difficulty in getting him to say whether he is in favour of the establishment of an Irish Parliament. At present a person is asked what religion he professes, and a similar objection to that urged by the right hon. Gentleman against the political question might be made against this, for it might be said that a person, when asked whether he is a Protestant, would require to know the distinction between the Protestant and other Churches, or, when asked whether he was a member of the Episcopal Church, would require the enumerator to expound the Thirty-nine Articles. But no such difficulties do arise, and they will not arise if the suggestion of my hon. Friend is carried out. The suggestion that the number of people now speaking the Irish language should be ascertained through the census is an important one, and I hope the Government will give it consideration. As to the undue use of information obtained by the census, it is not difficult to imagine cases in which such information might be used to annoy or to prosecute. I would suggest that the Government should make provision against this in the Bill, otherwise I should be disposed to move an Instruction after the Second Reading, or a clause in Committee, imposing a penalty on persons who improperly disclose information obtained through the census. It is the duty of Parliament to fix not only the maximum but the minimum penalty.

*(10.10.) MR. W. A. MACDONALD (Queen's Co., Ossory)

This Bill differs in many respects from the English and Scotch Census Bills. In England the enumerators are the overseers and relieving officers, and in Scotland the Inspectors and Assistant Inspectors of the poor, but in Ireland the Dublin Police and the Royal Irish Constabulary do the duty. By the English and Scotch Bills a table of allowances is to be laid before Parliament before the 1st of March of next year, but no such table is to be presented in respect to the allowances to the Irish police. In the case of England and Scotland an abstract of Returns has to be laid before Parliament within five months after the taking of the census, but in the case of Ireland 12 months are allowed. I cannot see why five months should not suffice. Another difference is that, while in England and Scotland the census papers are to be left by the enumerators at the houses of the people, who are to fill them up themselves, in Ireland the police are to go round, question the people, and report the answers. I can understand this being done when Ireland was an illiterate country, and there was a large number of people who could neither read nor write; but now yon will scarcely find a family where the young people, at all events, cannot read and write, and are consequently able to fill up the census papers. I say it is a positive insult to the Irish people to have policemen going round and asking who slept in their houses on a certain night, instead of giving the papers to the occupants themselves to fill up. I am sure that the Unionist Government ought to try to see that we are treated justly. We have been always hearing of equal laws between great Britain and Ireland, but this is not equal law. To get a number of policemen to ask questions is a very different thing from employing them to leave forms to be filled up by the people themselves. That is a difference which ought to be got rid of. The Bill has been most shamefully drafted. A number of particulars required for England and Scotland do not stand in the Bill at all for Ireland. In England and Scotland you are to ascertain the marriages of the people and the relations of the families. There is no such thing in the Irish Census Bill. In England and Scotland you are to ascertain who is labouring under physical or mental infirmity in a household, who is blind, deaf, or dumb, imbecile or insane: there is no such provision with regard to Ireland. Again it is provided for England and Scotland that persons who are travelling shall on that night have their existence recorded. It is not so with regard to Ireland. The Bill, as it stands, is so imperfect that it will not give the facts in Ireland which you get in the case of Great Britain. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see that it is amended, so that we may have an uniform census for the United Kingdom. Now, as to the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast, that it would be easy to put on the Census Paper the question, "Are you in favour of the establishment of an Irish Parliament," I think it is perfectly valid as far as it goes. You may not like it, but it could be easily done—nothing easier in the world, and you would then have the question of Irish opinion on Home Rule settled. It would not be altogether in the nature of pure statistics, but on the point of whether or not it would be easy to obtain the information the argument is entirely in favour of my hon. Friend.

(10.20.) DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid)

I rise for the purpose of urging the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make some reply, though I can quite under stand there are difficulties in the way. The Irish Constabulary are a wholly untrustworthy body as regards the information they forward, yet they are to be called upon to ask questions. We really want some intelligible reply to questions from this side of the House. The question has been raised as to whether the people would have to answer whether they are in favour of the Home Rule of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian. That is utterly absurd, and as the hon. Member for West Belfast put it, you might as well ask a man whether he was a Wesleyan or Independent, or of any section of the Protestant religion.

(10.22.) MR. GOSCHEN

Mr. Speaker, I think most of the questions which have been raised are more questions for Committee, where they can be fairly raised. The hon. Member has complained that this Bill is not drafted on the same lines as the Scotch and English Bills. As a matter of fact, it has been drafted precisely on the lines of the Bill of 1880. There is scarcely any difference between the two drafts, and we thought it best to follow the precedent of 1880. With regard to the observations of the hon. Member for Belfast in respect to my right hon. Friend the Attorney General, I wish to point out that if once you embark on the course of ascertaining the political views of different portions of the community, it would be difficult to know where we are to stop. Certainly Gentlemen for Wales would insist on having some statements with regard to Welsh Home Rule, and Scotch Gentlemen would want statistics with regard to Scotch Home Rule. I think we do well to remain on the old lines, and to confine the census principally to the non-contentious subjects introduced in the Bill.

(10.25.) MR. P. J. POWER (Waterford, E.)

There is one part of my speech to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer made no reply, and which is a matter of importance to us, namely, that in reference to which my hon. Friend has an Instruction on the Paper. On going into Committee, my hon and learned Friend intends to move the same words in Committee, and I would suggest to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that there should be some reply to the remarks of my hon. Friend.

(10.26.) MR. A. O'CONNOR (Donegal, S.)

Sir, a phrase peculiarly offensive to many people in Ireland is "Roman Catholics." That question is to be asked—"Are you a Roman Catholic." Though a Catholic, I am no more ft Roman Catholic than the Pope is an Irishman. I trust that in the forms that are to be used the word "Roman" will be omitted, and that the word "Catholic" may be used. To use the expression "Roman Catholic" is to do violence and offer offence to the minds of a great many of those of whom you are asking the information.

(10.28.) MR. ILLINGWORTH (Bradford, W.)

Sir, I think the discussion that has taken place shows that it will be wise on the part of the Government to confine themselves to matters of fact instead of entering upon the region of opinion. I do not believe that if the hon. Members for West Belfast and East Mayo were to receive, through means of the census, indisputable evidence that the majority of the Irish people were in favour of Home Rule, it would have the slightest effect in altering the convictions of hon. Gentlemen opposite. I object to the plébiscite in any form whatever.

(10.30.) COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)

As to what has fallen from the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. Illingworth), I wish to say that the Irish have always been willing to accept the proportion in Irish representation of 85 Home Rulers to 16 on the other side, exclusive of the two University Members—who are, no doubt, extremely valuable Members, but they do not represent the Irish people. We have always been ready to admit that proportion, but it has been universally denied by the Unionist Members and other hon. Gentlemen opposite. Therefore, we are anxious to have this plébiscite of the religious opinions of the Irish people. We believe that if such a plébiscite is taken it will show a greater proportion on our side than 85 to 16; and if the Government allow such a plébiscite to be made they will receive the support of all the Irish Members. Of course, if it is refused, the Irish Members cannot help it. As to the option being given to the Irish people to return themselves as "Roman Catholics," or "Catholics," I think they should have their choice. Some fancy one name and some fancy the other, and I think it should be left open to the people to describe themselves in any way they choose in this respect. I am of opinion that the two should be added together in the Census Returns, and that there should be no distinction made, because there really is no distinction.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for to-morrow.

(10.32.) MR. SEXTON

As a question of order, I wish to ask, in reference to the proposal I made a short time since with regard to a penalty for disclosing information obtained in the carrying out of this census, whether I can move an Instruction to the Committee now, or shall I have to bring the matter on in Committee?


The hon. Member must give notice of such a proposal.